Battle over Georgia highway heads to White House

| Monday, December 23, 2002

The decision to build a controversial 215-mile highway connecting Augusta and Columbus via historic Indian sites could move into the fast lane due to a push from the White House, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported recently.

The Fall Line Freeway, proposed by the Georgia Department of Transportation, would run from the state's eastern border, cross the center of the state south of Atlanta and end up on the western border, directly east of Montgomery, AL. Part of it would run between the Indian mounds of Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon.

In September, The Journal-Constitution reported, an order from the White House required faster environmental and historical reviews and interagency cooperation on selected highway projects. Later this month, a federal committee will decide whether the Fall Line Freeway will be on that list.

Earlier this month, the Intertribal Council of Five Civilized Tribes sent a resolution to the Federal Highway Administration, urging the agency to protect the historic tribal sites in the road's path. Among those are the Ocmulgee Old Fields, which are on the National Register of Historic Places. The property includes floodplains along the Ocmulgee River and several earthen mounds built by the prehistoric Mississippian culture atop the Macon plateau.

The highway would cross parts of the native historical sites that lie on private land. In addition, a cloverleaf exit would be constructed on historic property. However, the state wants to create an elevated freeway between the two sections of the national monument, which would leave Indian mounds and ancient town sites in that area undisturbed.

"A number of tribes are concerned about the traditional cultural property and are closely watching the road development," Jill Stephens of the National Parks Conservation Association said in a statement. "It is the responsibility of both the Georgia Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration to make sure Ocmulgee National Monument and the Old Fields are protected."

Federal agencies in 2000 called the route selected by the state the most environmentally and culturally damaging and the most expensive among paths considered for the highway, The Journal-Constitution reported.

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