Mark Washburn

It’s time for Lake Norman to sail away

John Hettwer of Cornelius speaks against I-77 toll lanes during Monday’s Charlotte City Council meeting. But the council endorsed the lanes serving north Mecklenburg with a 7-4 vote.
John Hettwer of Cornelius speaks against I-77 toll lanes during Monday’s Charlotte City Council meeting. But the council endorsed the lanes serving north Mecklenburg with a 7-4 vote. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

If you’re wicked smart on North Carolina history, you know about the counties of Dobbs, Bute, Glasgow and (my favorite) Pamptecough.

If you’re not, don’t fret. Those are the names of dead counties, spliced up or renamed as maps got redrawn over the centuries.

Counties are not eternal things. They get established as the need arises, and sometimes they just fade away.

Mecklenburg was hatched in 1762 from the western reserves of Anson. Avery coalesced in 1911 from parts of mountainous Mitchell, Watauga and Caldwell.

Population growth, political divisions and economics all play a role in the formation of counties. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a good thing.

Which is why it’s time to start seriously discussing the formation of Lake Norman County.

Last week’s vote by Charlotte City Council to endorse toll lanes to Lake Norman despite the region’s bitter opposition is the most powerful demonstration to date of the growing schism between neighbors.

Charlotte can’t be blamed for its vote. Toll lanes don’t burden the city much. It’s Lake Norman’s problem. And Lake Norman’s loss is the city’s gain.

Only a generation ago, the Lake Norman region was a rural outlier with a handful of old cotton towns. Now it is a vibrant, booming suburb.

Mecklenburg’s population has grown 80 percent in the last two decades. At the same time, Lake Norman’s population has surged 730 percent, a number that includes me.

If you combine the population of the three northern Mecklenburg cities with Mooresville in Iredell County, you get a region of about 120,000, roughly the size of coastal Brunswick County.

Nothing illustrates the economic split between Charlotte and Lake Norman like the stance of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce on the toll-lane issue.

Jim Dandy idea, the chamber gushed. A real barn-burner.

Up the road, Lake Norman’s chamber called the toll scheme a “nightmare” condemning the region to 50 years of hellish congestion on its spinal artery.

Both groups recruit industry to their respective jurisdictions. Both were speaking in their best interests.

Charlotte’s sales pitch just got better. Lake Norman’s got much worse.

Mass transit to the region? A non-starter. CATS Blue Line is aimed at University City, all in the city limits. Even though the tracks are already there, the mythical Red Line through north Meck is hopelessly stalled.

As they grew and matured, north Mecklenburg and southern Iredell have outgrown their distant overseers in Charlotte and Statesville.

It is a region that needs to steer its own course. Aside from the enormous contribution the residents make in property taxes to both counties, they are an island unto themselves.

Lake Norman County has a nice ring. Or Cocke County, after Norman Cocke, the Duke Power leader for whom the lake is named.

Given the unified political climate of the region, we can rule out only one suggestion: McCrory County.

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