Two sides face off over TVA land use policy Developers,
conservationists have their say at hearing on issue
By REBECCA FERRAR, August 17, 2006
Developers and conservationists squared off Wednesday over TVA's
development of a key land use policy, with one side urging the
federal utility to continue land sales to create jobs and the
other calling for protection of TVA's natural resources.
Each made their case at a hearing convened by the Community
Relations Committee of TVA's new part-time board. The committee
plans to establish a policy on the use of TVA land and recommend
it to the full TVA board for approval.
The policy will include whether TVA maintains a moratorium on
most land transactions, including the sale of prime lakefront
property to developers. TVA heard from panels made up of
developers, conservationists and government agencies that
oversee public land.
The committee also held a public forum during which citizens
could comment on the proposed policy, and about 50 people
Mike Ross, owner of Rarity Communities who has built upscale
residential areas including one on Tellico Lake, told the
committee that allowing the purchase of TVA land for development
creates jobs in the Tennessee Valley and increases the tax base,
which helps schools.
Ross said his company has been developing more than 4,600 acres
adjacent to TVA lakes with five projects near Oak Ridge,
Jellico, Sweetwater, Loudon and Vonore. He added that the total
value of those projects when completed will be $4.4 billion.
"We estimate the amount of property taxes alone paid in the four
Tennessee counties where our projects are located will be $22
million each year," Ross said. "Of course this amount does not
include state and local sales taxes paid.
"That is why Rarity Communities is proud to participate with TVA
to allow some of the valley's most economically challenged
counties to capitalize on their natural assets to grow their tax
revenue to improve their schools and other services."
Everett Roberson of the Watts Bar Development Authority, an
economic development agency representing Meigs and Rhea
counties, asked TVA for access to 1,700 acres in those two
counties for a high-end residential project.
"It would benefit both counties and create schools, allowing for
economic development in both counties," Roberson said.
The committee also heard from government agencies that oversee
public land, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
Cherokee National Forest, Alabama Department of Conservation and
Natural Resources and Gov. Phil Bredesen's office, which
oversees the governor's land trust.
Those agencies, with the exception of Alabama's Department of
Conservation and Natural Resources, said development on their
land is not permitted.
Leading off the conservationist panel was Russell Townsend, an
archeologist and the preservation officer for the Cherokee
Nation. He urged TVA to preserve Cherokee heritage scattered
across TVA lands, including acreage submerged at TVA reservoirs.
"TVA's responsibility to protect these resources is the most
important thing TVA can do," Townsend said. "I would like to
take back the message to my chief that TVA is concerned about
protecting lands." So far, he said, TVA has done a good job.
Billy Minser, a wildlife conservationist, noted that 22 million
people visit TVA lakes each year. TVA acquired 1.3 million acres
at the agency's start under eminent domain, displacing 16,909
families, and 293,000 acres are left today, he said. Remaining
land includes TVA facilities, recreational areas and other
government and community uses.
"We need a policy we can all live by," Minser said. "Do not use
eminent domain for economic development. Replacing farming on
fertile, productive lands with industry and dense housing is
Sandra Goss, executive director of the Tennessee Citizens for
Wilderness Planning, said her group's vision for TVA public
lands includes protecting water quality, preserving wild and
sensitive lands and promoting a "sustainable and viable economy
with equitable public access to protected lands and waters."
Like Minser, she said land obtained by eminent domain remains a
During the public comment session, Joe McCaleb, of
Hendersonville, Tenn., stressed that Congress created TVA in
1933 to promote navigation, flood control, electricity
generation and the social and economic well-being of the
"Nowhere in the TVA Act has Congress given TVA the power to
sell, transfer, lease or swap land," McCaleb said. "You need to
Bill Clabough, former state senator and currently executive
director of the Foothills Land Conservancy in Blount County,
applauded the board for imposing the land-sale moratorium.
He said the conservancy stands ready to help TVA develop a land
policy that protects TVA lands for future generations.
"The Foothills Land Conservancy appreciates the opportunity to
show our support for a land-use management practice that
includes natural areas, recreation land, open space and resource
conservation areas," Clabough said.
The hearing was held in conjunction with the Regional Resource
Stewardship Council, which advises TVA on natural resource
issues and meets again today.