*Letter from the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, 5/9/1996, to selected Chamber members.
As Chairman of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, I write to inform you that completion of the Fall Line Freeway through Macon is in serious jeopardy. Opponents to the project have been fairly effective in communicating their interest and they have mounted their assault on many fronts. I believe it is of great importance to our community that proponents of the project are activated to balance this currently negative trend.
If you favor the completion of the Freeway through Macon-Bibb County, I ask that you join us in our efforts. Our initial goal is to make written contact with every official targeted by the Freeway's opponents. (A mailing list of these names is available at the Chamber of Commerce. We can provide the information to you in label or disk format.) These officials have received a great deal of correspondence which suggests a lack of community support for the project. We want them to also understand that many of us realize the importance of this valuable project. We do request that you provide us a copy of your correspondence.
We suggest that you may want to include some of the following information in your letter(s).
Should you have any additional questions about the Freeway, please contact Lynn Murphey at 741-8036. She will be available to provide factual resources for you.
I cannot emphasize enough our need to counterbalance the anti-freeway forces. Please take time out of your busy schedule to make your support of this important project known.
The letter below is a reponse to the Chamber of Commerce letter. This response was writen by Dr. Lindsay Holliday and Jack Steppe
June 8, 1996
The Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce
305 Coliseum Drive
Macon, GA 31298
RE: The Eisenhower Parkway Extension (Fall Line Freeway Connector, Alternate Route A-1)
On May 9, 1996, a letter signed by Bill Wiley was mailed to selected members of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce. We are two of several of the members omitted from this mailing, apparently because we are known to oppose construction of the Eisenhower Parkway Extension through the Old Ocmulgee Fields. We are dismayed at the misinformation circulated in this letter to a large number of extremely influential people for the obvious purpose of soliciting them to pressure the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
We are herewith providing a point-by-point rebuttal to this letter. We have also attempted to summarize many of the concerns of ourselves and some other Chamber members. We share these concerns with some other local/state/national groups, including the Trust for Historic Preservation, the Archaeological Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the Center for Law in the Public Interest, the Society for Georgia Archaeology, the Macon Heritage Foundation, the Environmental Alliance for Central Georgia, Citizens for Responsible Planning, Friends of Ocmulgee Old Fields, the High Street Unitarian Church, and others, who see this project from a different viewpoint. The above groups believe that a number of important ethical and economic issues are involved which have been overlooked by the Chamber letter.
This letter says we oppose the Fall Line Freeway. This is NOT true! This cannot be said in strong enough terms. We favor Alternate Route F, or possibly E. We oppose the Georgia DOT currently preferred connector (Alternative Route A-1) known as the Eisenhower Parkway Extension. The Freeway and the Extension began as separate projects and they are not synonymous. The Chamber letter tells its recipients to make the following points: (Our rebuttal follows each statement -* )
The Chamber says: * The Chamber was instrumental in the initial preservation efforts surrounding the Ocmulgee National Monument and respects the long and important history that this sacred ground represents.
We should credit the last generation of Chamber members, not ourselves, for their farsightedness. A large number of organizations and individuals, including the school children of Macon who sold postcards and donated their lunch money, were instrumental in these efforts. The National Monument, including the Old Ocmulgee Fields it commemorates, is respected by over 110,000 people from all over the world who visit there annually. If the Chamber has such great respect for this very special place, why haven't most of its members been more supportive in recent years as the Monument's dwindling staff struggles to keep their nationally recognized heritage education programs afloat?
The Chamber says: * This project, which will connect three of Georgia's largest cities (Augusta, Macon & Columbus), is vital to the future of Economic Development in each of those cities and the area between those cities, and is of particular importance to Macon and Bibb County.
This is highly misleading. WE DO NOT OPPOSE THE FALL LINE FREEWAY! We understand its importance to Macon, Columbus and Augusta. We do, however, believe there are equally feasible, less costly connectors through Macon. No economic impact study has been done to determine the Eisenhower Parkway Extension's impact on Macon's economic future. Therefore, it is deceptive to tell people it is vital. In fact, many citizens believe it would be detrimental to Macon because it will destroy and degrade our heritage of natural and historic/cultural resources that could be promoted for tourism (one of the nation's largest and cleanest industries), and because it serves as an unnecessary by-pass of downtown Macon (it has actually been touted as a short-cut to the Mall).
The Chamber says: * It will aid in the creation of more new jobs, protect those jobs that currently exist, and ease access to those jobs. Access will be easier for people who live in the immediate area and for people who live between cities, where few jobs exist and which are some of the poorest areas of Georgia.
Again, this is highly misleading and a source of misunderstanding. WE DO NOT OPPOSE THE FALL LINE FREEWAY, NOR DO WE OPPOSE RESPONSIBLE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT! The statement includes two issues, jobs and access to jobs, which will be addressed separately as they relate to the Eisenhower Parkway Extension.
ECONOMICS (Jobs): As an April 29, 1996, Macon Telegraph editorial noted, the $106-million cost in precious state and federal funds for constructing the proposed Eisenhower Parkway Extension is not chump change. It is the equivalent of over $1,000 for every man, woman and child in the City of Macon (1995 population 105,432). It comes from the pocketbooks of taxpayers, not from some anonymous benefactor. Divide this great sum by the cost of your favorite unfunded federal/state/local need and you may be amazed at what it would do for this country. In the face of shrinking budgets and cutbacks in worthwhile programs, we do not believe further extending the Eisenhower Parkway is on the priority list. We need public funding for education and to preserve, enhance and promote our greenway along the river and other tourist attractions, not to dump fill-dirt into, concrete over and degrade one of our greatest assets.
There is no guarantee that the contract for building the Eisenhower Parkway Extension will be awarded to our one local firm large enough to bid on such a project or that it will create numerous new jobs for local minority workers, as has been claimed. Even if that happened, most of the jobs would be laborer positions, whose short-term benefit must be balanced against the high cost of the project verses the longer-term, higher quality jobs produced by tourism.
Also long-term - When have by-passes economically benefited a city's languishing downtown? It is easy to use catchy, emotion-laden words like vital that are repeated and widely circulated, but the fact (again) is: NO economic impact study has been done to prove how many jobs will be created or that the Eisenhower Parkway Extension is vital to Macon's economic future. Dreams of this short, extremely expensive, highly destructive road turning Macon into a great transportation hub are just that. They are vaporous musings with nothing of substance to back them up. The dreams of those who prefer a vision pointing in cleaner directions for Macon's economic growth are more valid - They are substantiated by the Point of Destination Tourism Study which will be explained later.
The Eisenhower Parkway Extension as it currently exists serves the purpose for which the idea was originally conceived - it provides convenient access to the blighted Seventh Street industrial area.
According to newspaper articles and meeting minutes, someone decided a number of years ago that extending the road across the river would greatly increase the value of land in the floodplain behind the Macon Levee by promoting industrial development there. However, traffic counts conducted by the Georgia DOT showed the expense could not be justified. When the Fall Line Freeway came along, it was seen as a way to get this extension constructed. Tom Moreland, who was then Commissioner of Georgia DOT, pushed the idea through. After he left the DOT, Moreland's firm designed the Macon Area Transportation Plan which included the Eisenhower Parkway Extension.
While planners and politicians may have been aware of the Eisenhower Parkway Extension project for 10 years, the majority of local citizens and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation did not realize its location, cost and consequences until 1992 when they learned it would bisect the Old Ocmulgee Fields Greenway along the river between the Main Unit and the Lamar Mounds and Village Unit of the Ocmulgee National Monument. A strong outpouring of public opposition, including a Resolution passed by the Muscogee (Creek) Council, forced the Georgia DOT to reconsider. Their new plan bisects the same area! Why? Are we missing something here?
Supporters of the Eisenhower Parkway Extension alignment have pointed out that this remnant of the historic Old Ocmulgee Fields is already scarred by I-16 and a railroad. Those who would preserve this area believe those past mistakes simply make the remainder even more precious.
After studying maps of Macon, it seems obvious that the major purpose for this highway is to encourage industrial development in the floodplain behind the Macon Levee. This was one of its primary justifications until the terrible lesson taught by the Great Flood of 1994. Of course, some people don't learn or retain their lessons as well as others: For example - Bibb County officials have assured the public that the Eisenhower Parkway Extension is in no way related to raising the Levee or tunneling under I-16. Meanwhile, maps in the draft 2015 Plan for Macon-Bibb County show the floodplain area behind the Levee shaded in for industrial development!!! Who are we to believe here? Actions speak louder (and more true) than words.
Corps of Engineers documents indicate that constriction of the river between the Levee and I-16, along with debris trapped in the railroad bridge pilings, caused much of the devastating upstream inundation of residences, businesses, and the Macon waterworks. It is also known that levees cause damage to lands across the river and downstream. In these areas, in relation to the Macon Levee, lay Ocmulgee National Monument, the Old Ocmulgee Fields Greenway, Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, and a number of private landowners. Constructing another bridge and a 150-acre interchange in the floodplain near a known trouble-spot will inhibit water flow, and thus will compound future flooding problems.
After the flood, a survey conducted by the League of Women Voters indicated that damages to the few businesses then located behind the Levee were not nearly as great as the Corps had predicted earlier when that agency and local officials were trying to justify raising the Levee (banks will not grant construction loans and insurance companies will not cover those who build in the floodplain unless the Levee is raised at least five feet at the cost of millions in federal tax dollars).
Because of the many concerns expressed after the Flood of 1994, Bibb County officials told the public they would not push to raise the Levee. They have mentioned the possibility of dredging the river and hollowing out the berm-fill causeway under I-16, to raise this highway where it runs through the Ocmulgee National Monument's mile-long river boundary and the downstream floodplain, in order to lessen the river's constriction. Again, this would involve millions of taxpayers's dollars, disrupt greenway wildlife habitat that has finally stabilized since I-16 was constructed in the 1960's, and create a terrific eyesore along the river for a very long time. These are highly questionable options in the opinion of many people.
We do not believe federal tax dollars should be used to promote and subsidize floodplain industrial development, as the Eisenhower Parkway Extension will do, especially when the old Seventh Street industrial area begs for attention and two newer industrial parks sit half vacant. If money for roads is to be spent in this area, the first consideration should be sorely needed improvements to Seventh Street and Broadway. At present, local citizens avoid them when possible and are ashamed for outsiders to travel them, though both could be ideal business routes to downtown Macon. Building another highway and river crossing near these street will not solve the problem.
There is little doubt that the Eisenhower Parkway Extension will cost big bucks. The question is: Will the vast majority of taxpayers in Macon truly profit from this project?
The Fall Line Freeway is one of Georgia's developmental highways funded by the Georgia Road Improvement Program (GRIP). A February 23, 1996, article in the Atlanta Constitution cautioned that "the GRIP program has been built on borrowed money, a ballooning debt that will obligate taxpayers to repay $1.5 billion in principal and interest over the next 20 years, even if work stopped today. Next year more money will be put into debt payments ($116.4 million) than into new construction ($100-million in new bonds authorized by the Legislature)." Taxpayers from across the state will take a very dim view of Macon if they learn that the current estimated cost of $106-million to extend the Eisenhower Parkway could have been saved with a better planned route.
In the same article, Warren Williams, president of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, stated: "It's a typical pattern. The highway advocates develop a notion without input from the people, go out and start the paving and then try to get the people to ante up." This is precisely the case with the Eisenhower Parkway Extension.
ACCESS: Unless it references the floodplain behind the Macon Levee, the statement's reference to job access is so nebulous that it is impossible to determine its meaning. However, as the word was used by the Macon Telegraph in terms of better access to the Ocmulgee National Monument and the Old Ocmulgee Fields Greenway, I would advise you to look at a map of this highway. It totally by-passes the entrance to the Ocmulgee National Monument. And where will it provide better access to the greenway than would be available from Emery Highway?
Georgia's developmental highways are supposed to follow already established routes as much as possible. Georgia DOT's Fall Line Freeway Alternative Route F follows an existing route, with little difference in access.
Informal surveys show most people are shocked to learn that the Fall Line Freeway actually enters Macon from the South on newly widened I-75, not from the east on Eisenhower Parkway (U.S. 80, the route presently taken by most travelers from Macon to Columbus). Then, people discover that plans are already in place to improve the I-75/I-16 interchange, widen I-16, and upgrade the ramp systems to Spring Street, Second Street, and Emery Highway. They remember that Emery Highway was widened a short time ago with no mention of impinging on public housing, hemming in historic districts, or impacting Ocmulgee National Monument - the major objections listed for this existing route - Alternative Route F. A tiny portion of the funds required for the Eisenhower Parkway Extension could improve this connector even more.
The improved route (above) is only 1-1/2 miles further from the I-75/Eisenhower Parkway turn-off to Highway 57 at Emery Highway (Fall Line Freeway North). It saves millions of precious tax dollars (not an issue 10 years ago), brings cross-state traffic within sight of the Macon Coliseum-Centreplex, the city's beleaguered downtown, its new attractions (Music Hall of Fame, Douglass Theater and the Sports Hall of Fame), and Fort Hawkins and the Ocmulgee National Monument. This route serves the same communities (except for the floodplain behind the Macon Levee), preserves Macon's unique Old Ocmulgee Fields Greenway, and is the most logical route for the Fall Line Freeway since it is already in use.
The Chamber says: *The Fall Line Freeway will improve public safety by creating an additional crossing of the Ocmulgee River and improving access to and for hospitals, fire fighting and other public safety organizations.
Get out your map and building trend surveys. More people would be better served by an additional river crossing in the Arkwright Road area since Macon is growing in that direction.
In the East Macon Area, access to hospitals and ambulances is unaffected because the Eisenhower Parkway Extension is a by-pass of the Coliseum Park Hospital, the Medical Center, and other hospitals which are located downtown. Also, fire fighting, and other public safety organizations are already in East Bibb County - so they are totally unaffected by this by-pass. Check the locations of fire and police stations and see for yourself if this statement is true.
The Chamber says: *The Freeway is the "linch pin" in our recently implemented $300 million road improvement program.
This is another example of meaningless gobble-de-goop! Any statement can be made to sound like fact if no one calls it to issue and asks for proof. What is a "linch pin"? Webster's defines it as a pin placed thru the end of an axle in order to keep a wheel from sliding off. ("Monkey wrench in the gear box" may be a more accurate metaphor for this bypass's effect on Cultural Tourism!). If "linch pin" means the $106-million Eisenhower Parkway Extension represents over 1/3 of the cost of that $300 million road improvement program then it is correct. If it means this road is the third leg of the Triangle By-Pass that designers of this concept prefer, then those who have used the term must explain how, considering its high cost, this road would help Macon proportionately more than using Broadway or Seventh Street as "linch pins." Using them would save additional money by not having to extend several streets into the floodplain to reach the new highway. Taxpayers who are financing these particular extensions as part of the extra one-cent sales tax package would be delighted to learn of a savings. It should be remembered that this sales tax increase was barely passed - by less than 50% of the voters.
The Chamber says: * The Fall Line will relieve congestion at Coliseum Drive, Second Street, Spring Street and the I-16 bridges over the Ocmulgee River.
Alternate Route F follows the above route and is already used by cross-state travelers so it cannot be said to cause increased congestion. Compared to most cities, the congestion at these points is minimal and limited in duration to early morning and late afternoon weekday rush hours. And, again, plans are already in place to improve the I-16 on/off ramps at each of these locations, which should relieve any perceived congestion problems. Anyway, is not the whole purpose of the Macon Chamber of Commerce to constantly work for and wish for Macon to have more and more people downtown? Sure seems that way! Does not the Chamber wish that downtown was so busy all the time?
The Chamber says: * The new route is expected to be three times safer for travel through the area than existing streets.
Sounds impressive, but it is impossible to substantiate since major improvements to existing roads will soon be implemented. And the Chamber knows this!
The Chamber says: * The Fall Line Freeway would provide a much-needed mid-state connector between Columbus and Augusta.
Totally irrelevant - except that it, again, promotes an erroneous idea. WE DO NOT OPPOSE THE FALL LINE FREEWAY!
The Chamber says: * It will also speed travel between I-16 and the Seventh Street Industrial area and the Macon Mall area.
This statement may be true to some extent. But, again, look at your map. The driving distance savings are negligible and it must be remembered that there will be traffic lights on the proposed Eisenhower Parkway Extension. Why should taxpayers spend $106-million for such a small return or subsidize a short-cut to the Macon Mall?
The Chamber says: * It is our understanding that the planners who have developed the currently proposed route have diligently explored all options and have chosen a route that best satisfies the transportation requirements with the least possible impact on the environment. More importantly, this route respects those areas held sacred by the Muscogee (Creek) Indian Nation and attempts to keep the Freeway as far as possible from these sacred grounds.
This statement contains by far the most misinformation and shows a profound lack of understanding of issues related to the environment and, especially, to grounds held sacred by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The latter has resulted in the application of extreme political pressure. This has caused a great deal of needless division and anguish to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. In the near future, this lack of understanding may also have negative repercussions affecting Bibb County and the city of Macon. Please take the time to study all aspects of this issue carefully.
According to William Bartram, Benjamin Hawkins, and other historic sources, the Old Ocmulgee Fields once stretched for miles along the river. The Muscogee (Creek) Confederacy revered the area and, as the State of Georgia took possession of their lands beyond the Ocmulgee River, they refused to give it up until they were forced out of Georgia by the infamous treaties of Indian Springs and Washington. William McIntosh was assassinated by his own people for signing the first document, which was declared illegal.
Only a small remnant of the Old Ocmulgee Fields remains relatively undeveloped. An intensive effort has been underway for a number of years to preserve this unique river greenway with its 12,000-year cultural legacy. The area extends from the Ocmulgee National Monument downstream to Browns Mount and the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. It is the corridor that brings a rich variety of wildlife almost to downtown Macon. Efforts related to the protection of this greenway were recently announced. The outlook for preserving it is excellent. Unfortunately, misinformation abounds concerning the proposed Eisenhower Parkway Extension's impact on this irreplaceable natural and historic/cultural resource.
Supporters have told the public that the highway will have minimal impact on the greenway because it will be raised. However, much of the bridge will extend above the Brosnan Railroad Yard (70 ft. high) and through the floodplain behind the Macon Levee. It will span only a short stretch on the east side of the river before reaching the huge, partially earth-fill interchange at I-16. This 150-acre interchange is not shown on many Eisenhower Parkway Extension maps because it is considered a separate project - this often-employed tactic leaves controversial segments until last by building from both sides before the public realizes what has happened, knowing it will then be difficult for them refuse to fund the missing connector (similar to the method mentioned in the Atlanta Constitution article). For example: the current Macon Area Transportation Plan shows that the interchange is scheduled to be completed in FY 1999 - While the two roads connecting the interchange are scheduled to be completed in FY 1997.
Since the proposed Eisenhower Parkway Extension involves the interchange at I-16, Federal Highway Administration approval and federal funding are required. This agency usually plays by the rules, especially when nationally significant properties are involved. In this case, the rules require that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation approves the project. They, and we, have many historic/cultural concerns.
The National Monument was created to protect and preserve "2,000 acres of lands commonly known as the Old Ocmulgee Fields..." (quote from the 1936 legislation). It currently encompasses only 702 acres. In 1992, as a result of the Eisenhower Parkway Extension controversy, almost 300 additional acres were donated to the National Monument by an adjacent landowner. The Archaeological Conservancy accepted ownership and now holds this property in trust for the people of this country, pending legislation to incorporate it into the park. The huge I-16 interchange would be constructed in part on this privately owned parcel. All of this private parcel is designated as part of the 2000 acres originally legislated as parkland. *NOTE* - The Archaeological conservancy has publicly stated that it will fight any effort to destroy the archaeological value of its property. Their resolve is independent of any tribal claims.
The highway interchange will bisect the wetlands approximately 1,500 feet (at its closest point) from the Lamar Mounds and Village Unit of Ocmulgee National Monument. This national treasure is the place where many scholars believe Hernando DeSoto's expedition crossed the river in 1540. It is the type-site for a widespread Native American culture, and the location of this country's only remaining spiral mound. Corps of Engineers data shows that, due to hydrology changes caused by the Macon Levee and I-16, Lamar is now subjected to 100-year floods every five years. The site becomes almost inaccessible after every heavy rain. This is part of the area that suffered damage during the Flood of 1994, which makes it even more sensitive.
While the Mississippian Period mounds at the Ocmulgee National Monument won't be destroyed, another huge swath of the nationally significant Old Ocmulgee Fields between them will be gone forever. This is the park's last frontier. Visitors from all over the world come here to marvel at Macon's legacy. How can they attempt to understand 12,000 years of people and the environment that sustained them, or appreciate the Muscogee (Creek) people's legacy here, if they are completely surrounded by concrete?
All too often road planners see areas like the Old Ocmulgee Fields as the path of least resistance because they see little of value. But as Dr. Stephen Kowalesky, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Georgia, has written: "When we look out over the Ocmulgee bottomlands from the top of Mound A (Great Temple Mound), we may think of the area as vacant because it has not been completely remade by us; but it isn't at all vacant. It contains a record of a crucial juncture in human history. That this record and public resource is not confined to the bounds of the Monument is already demonstrated by the existing archeological sample."
Bibb County's Commission Chairman stated in a letter to a constituent that "while the route would pass through lands that have been identified as Muscogee (Creek) cultural lands--these lands have been studied by archaeologists and have never been found to be burial grounds or sacred lands." SAYS WHO??? No professional archaeologist would make such a statement. Burials were found just across Walnut Creek inside the present boundary of Ocmulgee National Monument during salvage excavations preceding the construction of I-16. Creek artifacts and structures in this area were covered by up to 12 feet of historic silt. No archaeological work was done outside the park, though relic hunters found an Ice Age Clovis spearpoint at a site on the east terrace that had been ravaged for fill dirt. In the immediate vicinity, I-16 also destroyed the New Pond Site, Atkins Mound, the Gledhill sites, and Shellrock Cave.
No archaeological work has been done for the proposed Eisenhower Parkway Extension in the heavily silted floodplain on the Ocmulgee National Monument side of the river. However, many of the cursory shovel-tests on higher ground in this area were positive. Shovel tests along another section of the route located two new sites deemed eligible for the National Register - one on the east terrace and another large site with both a Woodland Period Napier Culture component and an historic Creek occupation stretching across and beyond the road corridor behind the Macon Levee. All these facts are provocative and indicate a need for further and more intensive study.
Directly in the path of the highway right-of-way lays the deepest peat deposit in Georgia (outside the Okefenokee Swamp). Though such sites have yielded some of the world's most spectacular archaeological information, very little research has been conducted at such places in Georgia. Archaeologists involved with the Windover Project in Florida have received indications that - Unless proven otherwise - All peat bogs should be considered as sites of mummified human remains. (The recent Value Jet crash in the Everglades demonstrates how hard it is to locate remains - even if you know where they are, have penetrating radar and sonar and hundreds of highly motivated volunteers.) Just because you don't see it - Doesn't mean it isn't there! You Know It Is.
The Georgia Department of Transportation did not agree with the Federal Highways Administration's opinion of 4(f) applicability for the project, which would require a finding of no feasible alternative. The DOT contracted a study researching the history of the Old Ocmulgee Fields. The report confirmed the area's importance. In February 1996, Georgia's Historic Preservation Office took the unprecedented action of designating the Old Ocmulgee Fields the state's (possibly the Southeast's) first Traditional Cultural Property, recognizing the Old Ocmulgee Fields as a place of national significance - not simply a series of archeological sites. No additional artifacts are required to prove its value.
Macon should be very proud! This designation increases the stature of the city's, and the Muscogee(Creek) Nation's, already-impressive historic/cultural heritage. Instead of publicizing this development, Bibb County's leaders have attempted to get this designation withdrawn! What? WHY? Meanwhile, they assure the citizens of Macon and the Muscogee (Creek) people that the Eisenhower Parkway Extension is the connector route which most "respects those areas held sacred by the Muscogee (Creek) Indian Nation and attempts to keep the Freeway as far as possible from these sacred grounds."
At best, construction activities will mar the Old Ocmulgee Fields Greenway for years and a wide strip will be gone forever. Even if the remaining wetlands eventually prove resilient, it is unlikely the deer, bobcat, bear, endangered woodstork, bald eagle, and many other wildlife species will return to Macon's doorstep. Who would meditate or recreate under a concrete overpass near a noisy, polluted interstate highway interchange? What will we leave for our children?
When railroads marred this landscape in the 1800's and I-16 cut through Ocmulgee National Monument's mile-long river boundary in the 1960's, the Muscogee (Creek) people were helpless. Now, thanks to the dedicated efforts of many people, their voices can be heard. They have undeniable interest in the land that will be impacted by this highway, and approval from the federal agencies involved is contingent upon their acquiescence. They are not trying to tell people what they can or cannot do with their land. They finally possess a legal right to determine whether or not federal funds are expended on projects that desecrate their burials or destroy places of great significance to their heritage.
POLITICAL PRESSURE: In November 1995, Bibb County and the Georgia DOT brought the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's Historic Preservation Officer and Attorney General to Macon for two days in an attempt to convince the Nation to rescind its opposition. No notice was given to the public or to groups who support the Creeks position. Many groups and individuals asked to be allowed to address these representatives and were granted one hour. The meeting was held during business hours. The auditorium at the Ocmulgee National Monument, the host facility for this meeting, was so full that all those who came could not get in. The overwhelming majority of the crowd consisted of people who favor alternative routes. This is the closest thing to a public hearing that has taken place to date. In December 1995, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reiterated its opposition with another Resolution.
Bibb County Commission Chairman Larry Justice, along with real estate developers Ben Porter and Charlie Jones, went to Oklahoma to convince the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's new Principal Chief Perry Beaver and newly elected National Council Members that they should rescind their two Resolutions opposing this project. Afterward, with no prior notice to the public, Bibb County brought ten of the Council members to Macon at taxpayers expense, again trying to woo them into ending their opposition. During this visit, a representative from the Sierra Club, Citizens For Responsible Planning and a consultant for the Eastern Cherokees were refused permission to speak with the group from Oklahoma or attend the press conference that the county held. A videographer, on public property, was ordered by Sheriff's deputies to not film the group (who were also on public property). The Creek delegation was allowed a brief visit to Ocmulgee National Monument where they were accompanied every step by Mr. Justice, the developers, Lonice Barrett (Commissioner, Georgia Department of Natural Resources), other county employees, and a large group of Sheriff's deputies.
A March 16th article in the Macon Telegraph listed the expense of this trip as $5,421 for travel, food and lodging. There was no mention of 2-1/2 days' salaries for 15 plain-clothed detectives and uniformed Bibb County law enforcement officers, who were diverted from crime fighting to "provide security" for the delegation during their entire stay, or the convoy of marked and unmarked sheriff's vehicles used to transport the group. The article did not show the cost of helicopter flights (ironically, staged from the 1,500-year-old Woodland Period Swift Creek Mounds and Village destroyed by Bibb County in the 1970's for a firing range). Also ignored were Mr. Justice's (and other county personnel's) time, salaries/travel expenses for Georgia DOT's David Studstill, who made an extended presentation, the cost of a videotape his agency produced to bolster the case, and salary/ expenses for Mr. Barrett.
It is also ironic that these high-level officials from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, whose people share a fabulous heritage with the citizens of Macon/Bibb County, and whose capital city, Okmulgee, Oklahoma, is a logical sister city for Macon, were in town on the kick-off day of Macon's Cherry Blossom Festival. Instead of remaining honored guests, equal to visiting dignitaries with no real ties here whatsoever, these high-ranking officials of this country's third largest Native American population were sent home after their indoctrination was completed. Shame! SHAME!!
On May 9th, a letter from the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce was mailed to selected Chamber members soliciting further political pressure and providing a mailing list which included everyone from Bruce Babbitt to Sam Nunn and Principal Chief Beaver. Letters in response to this request parroted the Chamber's recommendations.
Because of the use of misleading statements like "vital to Macon's economic future," some members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation have been made to feel guilty that they might actually impede Macon's progress. After receiving letters from a number of politicians at the national level, some Council members fear that, with such formidable figures supporting the Eisenhower Parkway Extension, it will be difficult for them to obtain badly needed federal funds in the future if they do not withdraw their opposition. This might be considered outright coercion. How sad that Bibb County has chosen to intimidate these people in such a manner! Such tactics seem reminiscent of the early 1800's before Indian Removal.
On June 7th-8th, Bibb County, again, brought Muscogee (Creek) National Council members to Macon at taxpayers' expense:
The day of their arrival, we called the Chamber - "... I'm sorry, we don't know anything... about ..." We called Mr. Justice's office and were told that "meetings with representatives from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation were not on his schedule". Yet, oddly enough an agenda of their trip had already been faxed to the Macon Telegraph. And he (Mr. Justice) was with them in meetings!!!
During a short visit to Ocmulgee National Monument, Bibb County Commission Chairman Justice told a WMAZ TV news reporter that the Sierra Club and other groups have been giving the Muscogee (Creek) Nation misinformation. A few minutes later, Mr. Justice ordered the park's Cultural Resource Management Specialist to leave so he could address the Council Members privately. During his ensuing remarks, Mr. Justice told the delegation that the local community and the state desperately needed this project. He told them they were given misinformation from someone in their own area, from the Sierra Club and "from here" (the video, taken by a bystander and turned over to the Sierra Club, shows him waving around his hand around the National Monument). He thanked them for coming to see for themselves; now they could go back and decide who's telling the truth and who's telling falsehoods. Such tactics are inexcusable!
This is not just a local issue. Every federally recognized American Indian Nation in the country is watching the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's handling of this problem. Should, as is highly unlikely, the Creeks give up their rights and allow this highway to desecrate the Old Ocmulgee Fields, other Southeastern Nations will step in and declare their interests. They will have the support of the Archaeological Conservancy, the Sierra Club, and all the groups who now oppose this project. As publicity about the issue spreads, many more groups and individuals from across the country will become involved. The problems will continue indefinitely. Meanwhile, Macon could, indeed, loose the Fall Line Freeway to the Highway 96 route.
VISION: Macon has developed a reputation in recent years for lacking vision. Those who oppose the Eisenhower Parkway Extension have a vision of Macon different from those who say the city's economic future depends upon constructing the Eisenhower Parkway Extension (the "Longest Bridge in Georgia"). Opponents do not believe Macon must become a Major Truck Stop in order to prosper.
A few years ago, Macon-Bibb County paid almost $100,000 for a study by outside experts to determine how to become a point of destination for tourism. The report stated that Macon's unique Fall Line environment and unsurpassed Ice Age to Space Age continuum should be enhanced, packaged and promoted. No other city of Macon's size has such a fabulous natural and historic/cultural area so close to its downtown. These resources would attract heritage and eco-tourism, industries expected to grow even larger in the future. While Savannah, Charleston, Chattanooga, even Columbus and Augusta, profited by identifying and enriching their individual personalities, and Senator Coverdell introduced a bill to make the Augusta Canal a National Heritage Area, Bibb County's leaders ignored their advisors and strive to degrade our city's greatest asset. They seem blind to the whole of Macon's priceless legacy - its ecological treasures interwoven with the saga of American Indians, Europeans, Africans and Asians, whose stories are told at the Ocmulgee National Monument, the Hay House, the Douglass Theater, the Cannonball House, the Tubman Museum, the Sidney Lanier Cottage - and whose chapters will be enlarged by the Georgia Music and Sports Halls of Fame; and should be further commemorated at Fort Hawkins, Camp Oglethorpe, Camp Wheeler, and other sadly overlooked places. Why not also find a home here for the Georgia Museum of Natural History and seek other illustrations for this epic?
East of the river in Old Ocmulgee Fields Greenway are places for wildlife habitat, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, nature study, camping, boating, and research. Along and behind the Macon Levee there is space for ball fields, picnic facilities, paved trails, biking, skateboarding, rollerblading, and a host of other activities - with both sides of the river tied to downtown Macon.
Macon is the heart of Georgia - and, with vision, it could also be its timeless soul. Macon could be the dramatic hub pointing outward to every aspect of the region's natural and cultural heritage. Macon's founders did not intend for the city to expand into the floodplain and swamps. Butler's History of Macon and Central Georgia records that the Legislature of 1826 passed an act "to reserve the timber in the vicinity of the town for the preservation of the health of the inhabitants thereof, setting apart all the land within the plat below Seventh Street... to be vested in the corporate authority of the town; provided, that if any part of the land should be sold or leased it should then revert to the State."
It has been many years since those words were written, but the wisdom of limiting development in the floodplain and greenway remains timely. Unlike most cities, Macon still has this option.
Like excellence in education and a safe environment, the Eisenhower Parkway Extension is a quality-of-life issue. When Macon improves its image and shows the world it has something truly outstanding to offer, visitors and businesses will flock here, money in hand. This, many people believe, is Macon's best hope for quality economic development. This kind of progress would encourage cooperation/partnership, attract and create clean jobs, and benefit all of Middle Georgia.
Good reasons can always be found for destroying another piece of nature or history. Obviously, as human populations skyrocket, not everything can be saved. But some places are so special that they should be preserved and protected for today and for future generations. It is Macon's, and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's natural and historic/cultural heritage, not the Eisenhower Parkway Extension, that is vital. With urban sprawl rapidly devouring the nation's wildlands and ancient sites, Macon's Old Ocmulgee Fields Greenway will become increasingly valuable over time.
We urge you to study this issue and give it the attention it deserves. Once our tax dollars are spent to construct the Eisenhower Parkway Extension and another piece of the Old Ocmulgee Fields is destroyed forever, it will be too late. The Ocmulgee River's people survived for 12,000-years without this short strip of road, and they will continue to thrive without it. Let's put our egos and pocketbooks aside and get behind the effort to preserve, enhance and promote our Greenway and our other heritage attractions.
As former Principal Chief Bill Fife wrote in 1995: "For the Muscogee, history and culture are inextricably linked to the land; forced removal denied the Muscogee people access to much of their cultural and historical inheritance... The Muscogee people understand the need for both public and commercial development... (but the Nation) will not allow an invaluable portion of its history and culture to be sacrificed when there are realistic alternative routes... The Muscogee people and the citizens of Macon, as well as those of Georgia, share in the extraordinary historical, cultural, and natural resources contained within the fall-line region of the Ocmulgee valley. As responsible stewards of this invaluable inheritance, we must proceed more reasonably than we have thus far."
Lindsay D. Holliday, DMD
Holliday Dental Associates
Member, Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce
Chair, Ocmulgee Chapter
Member, Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce
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