Trace employee blasts ‘viewshed’ exemption

CATEGORY: Letters

AUTHOR: JOER

Trace employee blasts ‘viewshed’ exemption

The Natchez Trace Parkway became a reality in 1934, when Mississippi Congressman Jeff Busby introduced a bill to construct a road that would traverse three states, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, and would commemorate the historic Natchez Trace. Make note that it was Mississippi that recognized the importance of this national roadway. Mississippi lawmakers continued to support this effort by passing a law that would preserve, protect, and promote the partnership between the state and the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The Mississippi Code of 1972 was significant in that it laid the foundation for the protection of the “viewshed” and restricted construction taller than 35 feet within 1,000 feet of the Trace.

In 1996, Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville introduced a piece of legislation that started chiseling away at the protection provided by the earlier Mississippi legislators.

This bill exempted silos and churches from the height restriction. When it became law, I knew that a precedent had been set. Holland, after the success of this first chink, felt no reluctance in asking for an exemption for schools and HB-146 passed in May of this year. This bill exempting schools was introduced and passed for one reason the Tupelo school system decided to build a performing arts center on the Tupelo High School campus, which is adjacent to the Parkway. This center contains a section that will be 65 feet in height, and it is this section that will be in the 35-foot restricted area.

Are there other places to build the center on the campus even to situating it differently? Yes, to both options. Were they ever even seriously considered?

There was opposition to the bill from Friends of the Parkway, and even the Mississippi Senate which proposed its own bill that would have protected the Trace from any new construction within the viewshed, while still exempting the church (Harrisburg Baptist) that was being constructed. Due to the strong political influence of Steve Holland and Speaker Tim Ford, this bill was not considered. The 1996 and 2000 bills were for two buildings two buildings for which the people of Mississippi and the United States will pay a high price the destruction of the scenic integrity of the Parkway.

HB-146 reads, “… any building or structure constructed or to be constructed on property that, on the effective date of this act, is owned by a public school district and used for educational purposes are exempted from the application of this section.”

Is it not true that school officials told our state representatives that the school project did not include track lighting or other improvements that would exceed the 35-foot limit? I wonder if the lighting for the new track is going to be considered “educational.” Is this a case of “what ‘is’, is?

If I could explain in words the importance of protecting the scenic viewshed to the people of Mississippi, I would. But, the Parkway is a visual explanation. Please open your eyes and really take a look when you travel the Parkway. Do our 16 million visitors drive this All-American Roadway to see the back of Wal-Mart, the Tupelo High School, or even the 13-story steeple of a church? Can anyone really believe that the arts center or Tupelo High School “enhances” the beauty of the Trace?

Dot Ward, columnist for the Clarion Ledger, wrote in a May 27 article, “What irony! With the completion of the 62-year-old Natchez Trace Parkway just a few years away and our congressional delegation successfully garnering the federal dollars to complete the project, the Mississippi Legislature is dismantling the laws that protect its scenic beauty.”

The Mississippi Legislature will begin a new session for 2001. Please rebuild the protection of the Parkway by doing away with all exemptions. Contact your representatives and senators. Let them know that this law must be changed to restore the protection and preservation of the Parkway. The powers-that-be will have their arts center and church, but let us put a stop to encroachment on the Trace’s scenic viewshed.

Marty Owens

Natchez Trace Parkway Employee

Tupelo