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           Back to TimeLine
Proposal to extend Eisenhower angers some

By Christopher Schwarzen
The Macon Telegraph

posted July 19, 1999

Lands surrounding the Ocmulgee National Monument have become the heart of controversy over a 30-year-old project called the Eisenhower Parkway Extension.

Scheduled for construction in 2002, the parkway project stands to connect Macon's industrial areas at Seventh Street and Ocmulgee East Boulevard as well as link each part of the Fall Line Freeway between Augusta and Columbus.

It should also enhance economic development in Macon, eliminate flood susceptibility for bridges across the Ocmulgee River and reinforce already existing corridors and transportation patterns in Macon.

The problem is, no one knows where it will run.

There are 18 proposed routes. Some follow existing roadways such as Interstate 16, Emery Highway and even Broadway; others require new routes - the most popular cutting through lands near the Ocmulgee National Monument. This is an area that soon could be designated the traditional cultural property of the Muscogee Indians, a part of the Creek Nation that once called land surrounding Macon their home.

State Department of Transportation officials, national park rangers, Muscogee Indians and concerned residents have all turned their eyes to the Keeper of the National Registry, a federal office that determines historical boundaries. DOT and the Muscogee Indians disagree on land eligible for construction.

"The Ocmulgee National Monument is on (the national register), but that's about it," said Joyce Bear, a historic preservation officer for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. "There are other surrounding properties we think are eligible that have the imprint of Creek Indians on them. There are other Indian burial grounds we haven't found yet."

David Studstill, a DOT environmental engineer, says a proposed roadway has already been destroyed by other development.

"You're never going to please 100 percent of the people with any project," he said. "We're trying to find a compromise, but from the comments we've received so far, this route through the traditional cultural property is the most popular."

DOT wants to use a route that would cut between the Ocmulgee National Monument and the Lamar Mound. The Muscogee Nation says that land is their homeland and should be protected.

"I have talked to Native Americans; they feel a spiritual link to their birthplace. This is their homeland area," Studstill said. "It's not something that can be measured like a surveyor measures with boundaries.

"But the archeological sites have been identified and are known through the area. Any alignment will try to avoid archaeological, physical sites."

Bear believes the only people deciding alignments should be the Creek Nation.

"None of these routes are acceptable," she said. "We're trying to preserve the oldest civilization in North America. We feel like the Native Americans are the ones who should say where the boundary is, not non-Indian people who are represented by commissioners and DOT."

The National Park Service is behind her. Not only are they worried about the loss of historical lands but the wetlands as well. The surrounding area is home to many forms of wildlife that could die if a highway is built through it.

"Our comments on the traditional cultural property support the boundaries outlined by the Native Americans," said Jim David, superintendent of the Ocmulgee National Monument. "It's not a perfect system, but we feel there are other routes that should be looked at."

Studstill said he hopes the wetland issue is already resolved.

"We'll bridge the whole cotton-pickin' thing," he said. "You can start on one side of the project where the levee, build out one step at time, and the equipment never touches ground."

Paul Nagle, president of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, wants this to be a positive project.

"We've been firmly in favor since the get-go," he said. "No route is perfect, but DOT is leaving no stone unturned (while studying the issue)."

The intended economic development that will come with the four-lane road is a pressing need today, Nagle said. As the community grows it becomes more important.

"Communities with four-lane highways do a lot better than communities that don't," he said. "Areas close to Savannah or Atlanta, they seem to have done better because of their four-lane highways."

Nagle says it's important to be supportive of the historical area. Fifty years ago last week, the chamber helped secure grant money to protect the mounds.

"But many of the proposals along existing roads don't work," Nagle said. "You can rename Broadway but it's still the same road. Right now there are too many trucks on the road and it can't handle it."

There is no telling when or where the route will be built. DOT estimates the cost to be between $80 million and $100 million, Studstill said. Money is not the issue, unlike most road projects, he said.

Both sides will have to wait until the Keeper of the National Registry makes a decision on the Muscogee Indians' homeland, Bear said.

"It will be worked out when the Keeper makes a final determination," she said. "Our traditions have continued on through our people through these years, even though we were once removed from the land."

The tribe's traditions will always continue , regardless, she said.

All content© Copyright 1999    The Macon Telegraph