Imminent Domain

Posted by R. Neal

As part of the great Rural Electrification of the 1930s under FDR, the Tennessee Valley Authority was founded to control flooding, generate power, and improve the lives and welfare of the people in the valley.

Now a bureaucratic behemoth and a government within a government with its own police force and no elected officials, TVA stomps around the valley doing pretty much whatever it wants for the benefit of TVA and a few rich people.

In 1964, TVA acquired - by eminent domain - 179 miles of shoreline to create the 10,370 acre Nickajack Lake near Chattanooga in the scenic Tennessee River Gorge, the "Grand Canyon of Tennessee." As with all TVA reservoir projects, people were removed from their homes and farms, by force if necessary, and paid a token sum for their land and their troubles.

In the latest example of TVA hubris, land taken from 82 families by eminent domain for Nickajack Lake was "auctioned" to a real estate developer for a $450 million upscale lakefront gated community development:

The Tennessee Valley Authority's decision Wednesday to auction off hundreds of acres of shoreline near Chattanooga could lead to even more private development on what's now public land.

The controversial land swap is similar to the deal TVA struck with the developer of Rarity Pointe in Loudon County three years ago.

Nearly 600 seemingly priceless acres along Nickajack Lake are now destined for a $450 million gated community with 1,100 homes, a golf course and boat slips.

According to news reports, the developer was the only bidder at the "auction." According to an attorney:

"My reading of the 1933 act or an any amendment since then has never authorized TVA to sell public land for private residential development," environmental attorney Joe McCaleb objected from the podium of TVA's West Tower auditorium Wednesday."

Well, there's nothing in TVA's charter that authorizes them to dump millions of tons of toxins into the atmosphere or pollute the Tennessee River and its tributaries with mercury and other nasty stuff or to impede navigation on our waterways, either, but they never let technicalities like that stop them. See, they are the TVA, and the 'A' stands for Authority, which apparently means blanket authority to do whatever they want without citizen input or government oversight.

Anyway, the scary part is that TVA is eyeing similar projects that will remove more prime lakefront property currently designated for public/recreational use, not to mention critical wildlife habitat, for private development:

"In these proposals, there's no net loss of public land. In this proposal, we actually had a net gain of 500 acres for the public," TVA Chairman Bill Baxter said. "This proposal, I think, is going to become a model for what the TVA will consider."

Isn't that special. Say, they should team up with DOE in Oak Ridge and work out land swaps deals on some of those toxic waste dumps up there for more prime lakefront property. It's a win-win for everybody!

It should also be noted that Bill Baxter, a loyal Bush supporter and campaign contributor, was appointed to the TVA board of directors by none other than George W. Bush, who upon taking office promptly rolled back New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act, allowing TVA to expand their coal-fired power plants and burn more coal without installing new pollution controls. The results can be seen (or not, depending on your point of view) in the ozone haze and clouds of sulfur dioxide enveloping the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, destroying sensitive ecosystems and eating the paint off our cars. But that's a rant for another day.

OK, then.