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Graham County to end ambulance service on ‘Dragon’

September 30, 2009

Graham County to end ambulance service on ‘Dragon’

ROBBINSVILLE — Graham County next year won’t send its ambulances into neighboring Swain County to respond to wrecks on the famous motorcycle route “Tail of the Dragon.” 

And the county won’t be picking up the garbage there, either.

County commissioners last week voted to end a longstanding agreement with Swain County to serve the U.S. 129 area.

The road starts in Blount County, Tenn., and packs 318 curves in 11 miles. Motorcyclists from around the world travel to ride it. At least two people a year are killed on the North Carolina side of the road.

It takes about 22 minutes for an ambulance to get to the part of U.S. 129 in Swain County from Robbinsville in Graham. It can take as long as 50 minutes to get there from Bryson City in Swain.

The agreement that left Graham covering Swain was fine when it started about 15 years ago, county leaders have said. Calls were few back then. Today, Graham gets 30 calls a year to the 10 miles of the highway in its neighbor’s jurisdiction.

Graham County leaders say the service costs about $100,000 a year.

The two governments met in July and August on the issue.

The Graham board pulled the plug during a meeting on Sept. 21. after Swain County Manager Kevin King offered a discounted rate to house Graham inmates in the Swain jail as compensation, said Graham County Manager Lynn Cody.

He said King’s offer of $40 per day per inmate was $5 lower than Cherokee County, where Graham currently houses its inmates. But it still wasn’t enough.

“If you don’t have a whole lot of inmates you are really not getting much out of it,” Cody said Tuesday.

“We are just asking to be compensated for some of the costs (on U.S. 129).”

Swain had been giving Graham $21,000 a year to pick up garbage in the area but wasn’t contributing directly to emergency services and law enforcement.

The 19,000 acres of private land in the far corner of Swain County generates $195,000 a year in property taxes.

Graham leaders earlier this year had floated the idea of asking the General Assembly to change the county line and give them the corner of Swain County.

The proposal was tabled.

Swain County Manager Kevin King, who did not immediately return a message on Tuesday, has said Swain would be better off buying another ambulance to serve U.S. 129 than giving the land to Graham County.

Most of the serious accidents on U.S. 129 happen in Graham County, according to N.C. Highway Patrol records.

Troopers last year responded to four wrecks involving injuries on U.S. 129 in Swain County and 20 in Graham County. Troopers wrote one speeding ticket in Swain County and 91 in Graham County.

Graham will stop providing services there on Jan. 1

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