Group recalls resistance against Tellico Dam
By Ron Clayton knoxnews.com
Attorney Zyg Plater, right, talks to David Conners about the attempt to stop the building of the Tellico Reservoir on Saturday at Vonore, Tenn. Plater and Conners attended a luncheon marking the 30th anniversary since the gates of the Tellico Dam were closed.
A banner awaits those who attended a luncheon marking the 30th anniversary since the gates of the Tellico Dam were closed.
VONORE, Tenn. - It has been 30 years since the gates on the Tellico Dam were closed and water began inundating farms, a small community and locations of several former Cherokee settlements in this area.
On Saturday, a group of about 50 "Tellico Resisters" gathered at the Vonore Community Center to remember a time when TVA took their land through eminent domain, built a dam on the Little Tennessee River and then sold the remaining land to developers for millions.
They shared stories of their community, but most continue to rail against the utility giant's actions that led to the reservoir.
"My dad took them to court, but we were notified to leave," Margaret Sexton said.
They waited until the last minute, Sexton said, hoping for a reprieve, but had to leave some of their belongings behind, including a chest their father built. They watched their house and barn and the chest burn.
Construction of Tellico Dam began in 1967 and was completed in 1979, according to TVA.
Beryl Moser was the last holdout in an area known as Morgantown. He stayed on his five-acre farm until armed U.S. Marshals forced him off. He said he was paid $12,800 for the land.
He said Saturday that less than half an acre is under water. The rest was sold for more than $300,000 per acre.
Resident Susan Williams was at the Moser home when he was forced to leave. Her grandfather donated land for Fort Loudoun, which sits on Tellico Lake, but his land was also taken by TVA.
TVA sought to build the 33-mile-long reservoir primarily for flood control, but a canal allows water to be released downstream and barge traffic to use the river. There is no generator located at the 3,238-foot-long dam.
Initially the possible extinction of a small fish called the snail darter was used by environmentalists as a reason to stop the dam. It lived in the river but later was found in other Tennessee rivers.
Attorney Zyg Plater, who won his case in court against the dam but lost when Congress prevailed, said the darter was not the primary issue.
He and others said the dam was unnecessary, and building it ruined prime farm land, along with many historic locations that could have put the Vonore area on the map for tourism. Cherokee villages were scattered along the bank of the Little Tennessee, along with prehistoric sites.
"The fish were a canary in a coal mine," Plater said. "It simply showed that human welfare was at risk."
He said it was a political machine against farmers and homeowners.
Most at the meeting said being forced off their homeland was painful, but when they found out land not under water was being sold by TVA through developers for upscale communities, they were incensed.
"I still feel the same as I did then," Moser said. "I go down there every year on the week they moved me out." The land on which his home and much of his farm sat still lies unused, he said.
Saturday's gathering also featured a smorgasbord meal and a film about the removal. A Maryville student was on hand, filming a documentary about the meeting and the taking of the land.
"We did all we could to stop them," said Carolyn Ritchey. "This was the place where we first believed in Santa Claus, went to school, and the church where we were saved."
She said she and her two sisters still go to the site of their former home each Easter to lay flowers.