Thursday, April 1, 2010

Airport Authority called out for `blatant lie'

Airport Authority called out for `blatant lie'

01 April 2010
Authority's most recent response to questions of Army Corps offers up some bold untruths

The Macon County Airport Authority has submitted additional information requested by the Army Corps of Engineers for a permit application required to disturb waters around the airport and proceed with a planned runway extension.

"We submitted the responses to the questions Lori sent us," said Eric Rysdon of engineering firm W.K. Dickson at the Airport Authority meeting held Tuesday, Mar. 30.

But the document apparently includes several false statements.

Lori Beckwith of the Asheville Regulatory Field Office of the Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of reviewing the information submitted by the Airport Authority on Feb. 22.

Beckwith requested on Jan. 6 that the Airport Authority respond to several concerns of the project, including those made by members of the public and local agencies during a public comment period. Dickson is meant to answer any concerns raised in the course of the project, including that adverse impacts to the trading path known to have once crossed through airport property were not addressed and that the area has been considered for further industrial development.

"The report is very positive and favorable to the project," stated Authority Attorney Joe Collins prior to its release.

Trading Path

Rysdon wrote in the response to the Army Corps that the trading path was not listed as an impact to the project because "it was simply not known of." Rysdon wrote that "information on the trading path was requested from Lamar Marshall of Wild South, yet no evidence of such a path on the property has been provided to date. Mr. Marshall attended several MCAA meetings and meetings of the county commissioners during the project development phase and never spoke of the trading path."

Marshall, cultural heritage director of Wild South, has been mapping Indian trails for over 40 years. He once mapped 200 miles of the Trail of Tears that was added to the National Historic Trail System. He was mapping the trading path that crosses through Iotla Valley when he first learned of plans to extend the airport runway.
The trail ran from Charleston, South Carolina, divided in Clayton, Georgia, veered over Burningtown Trail and terminated at the Capital Cherokee town of Chota and Fort Loudon, Tenn. "It was a major trading point," said Marshall of the trail that went through the Valley of Iotla where a large village site of Cherokee Indians once existed. Marshall said the trading path is part of the legacy, heritage and culture of the Cherokee Indians and must be addressed by law.

At a county commission meeting held at the March 9, 2009, Marshall addressed the board stating that, "A major trade route from Charles Town, S.C., came through Franklin and right through the airport and Cherokee Town of Iotla." Members of the Airport Authority were present at the meeting, where the runway extension was the major issue of debate.

"I spoke of it in public," said Marshall of the trail this week. "It was the number one point in my presentation. It was a major trading path."

In addition to the comments provided on the trading path at that meeting, Marshall sent more than 7,000 words of information on the path in response to the project's Environmental Assessment on March 17, 2009. "I sent extensive comments on the Environmental Assessment," said Marshall.

In that statement, which included maps of the path, Marshall wrote that disregarding the path "is a violation of the National Historic Preservation Act that specifies that a road or a trail over a hundred years old must be protected until it is studied and deemed significant enough to qualify or not to qualify for the National Register of Historic Places…This major path and road, like the Natchez Trail, was also used by Indians, pioneer settlers, traders and soldiers during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Indian trail to Nikwasi and Iotla is so well documented…it is a well established historical fact found in thousands of libraries, archives, Web sites, books, journals, articles, the Museum of the Cherokee and a popular book sold in hundreds of book stores in North Carolina: `Cherokee Heritage Trails' by Barbara Duncan and Brett Riggs."

Marshall said he cannot believe the Airport Authority claims he never spoke of the path. "They say I attended meetings and didn't speak of it," he said, "there are only two possibilities for such a lie: either they are simply lying and covering something up or they are totally incompetent and incapable of running the project of an airport located beside a school of children. This is absolute incompetence or lying; it can't be anything else. They never asked for more information and they never responded to any comments I made."

The information compiled for Beckwith by Rysdon states that once information about the path is obtained, the project will commence to study the trading path.

Marshall said that because he has already provided information on the path, he fears the whole process at the airport has been a "railroad job. They are running through with shoddy work. It is a waste of taxpayers' money in a time of terrible hardship. We're paying for it."

Marshall said he "hopes the Corps of Engineers severely reprimands the Airport Authority for making a statement as blatantly false as that one. It is a blatant lie. They have no conscience. It's that simple."

State Archaeologist Steve Claggett with the Department of Cultural Resources and Office of State Archaeology however stated in a letter dated Mar. 25, 2010 that evidence suggests no visible remnants of the trail remains. "No potential exists for the airport expansion project boundaries to encroach on any surviving portions of the purported trail," stated Claggett.

Industrial development

Rysdon stated that "several residents of Iotla Valley have expressed concern that the county has plans for a major airpark or industrial park" in the vicinity of the airport. "The Macon County Commissioners have no plans for an industrial park-type development in Iotla Valley…" wrote Rysdon to the Army Corps.

Commissioner Bob Simpson however said that the Board of Commissioners put money into the Economic Development Commission for the express purpose of purchasing land around the airport for the development of an industrial park. Simpson, who served on the board since 2002, said the county twice tried to purchase land for commercial development around the airport. The county even swapped a piece of land with an area family in order to broaden ownership around the site, Simpson said, although the park itself "hasn't come to pass."

Commissioner Jim Davis, who served a term from 1996-2000, then from 2004 to the present, said purchasing land around the airport to develop a commercial park has been discussed for years. "It was one option we were looking at," he said of a possible commercial park. Davis said it was once thought that, when considering a new school in the area, having some industrial development around the airport would make water and sewer availability more economically feasible. "Typically around an airport is a good place for economic development," he said.

In Nov. 2007, former County Manager Sam Greenwood said that several county commissioners and Economic Development Commission members have shown an interest in a small commercial facility with minimal infrastructure needs. "An air park, where the businesses that would benefit from close access for airport freight services would locate right by the airport," he said.

"It's pretty much at a stopping point until the airport extension project gets out of the way," said Greenwood. The park could be located on the same property as the airport or nearby, he said.

Greenwood said there is "nothing in hand" in terms of conceptual drawings or plans for the commercial park and any other related development. "One of the things the board [of commissioners] did was to tentatively outline a park concept," he said.

In light of the fact that the airport is considered an ideal location for new businesses, access to water, sewer and other utilities are considered beneficial for choosing Iotla Valley as an area for longterm economic development. Greenwood said that one of the benefits of a planned route for the water and sewer line is that it is primarily on Department of Transportation right of way or along county property. Some road improvements would be necessary for the new North Macon school, he projected, as well as any more development in that area.

Road construction

Rysdon also responded to concerns over the widening of roads or the construction of new roads around the airport. "Neither the NCDOT nor the county has plans to widen or build new roads or highways in the area of the airport," wrote Rysdon.

Despite Rysdon's comment that there are no plans to widen or build roads in the vicinity of the airport, Hwy. 28 North will be widened. The state Department of Transportation has already begun the process creating ditches and guardrails where needed for safer driving.
DOT Right-of-Way agent Teddy Greene said the two-lane road will be upgraded from two ten-foot-wide lanes to two 12-foot-wide lanes. High volume areas, such as the turn for Airport Road, will be equipped with left-turn lanes, said Joel Setzer, also with NCDOT.

Impact of findings on site

According to the information released by W.K. Dickson, the archaeological work at the airport site yielded approximately 250 large pit features, 190 small pits and over 110 small `smudge' pits. "TRC was contracted to collect as much data as possible by exploring 25 percent of the impact site," wrote Rysdon. Archaeological work began on Feb. 23, 2009.

Following the release of Macon County News articles, including "Airport extension set to crush important archaeological site," published Feb. 12, 2009 and "Cherokee Nations seek compromise over runway expansion as project begins," published Feb. 26, 2009, additional federal funding was provided to allow for stripping and mapping of 100 percent of the site.

"Shortly into the archaeological exploration," wrote Rysdon, "the MCAA expanded the scope of work for TRC to include 100 percent stripping and mapping of the entire impacted site with additional funding from the FAA…Additional stripping and mapping of the entire site was added to the scope of work for TRC after the discovery of the density of the artifacts in the project area."

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