The Tennessee Valley Authority wants to sell part of its birthplace after cutting most of the local programs that once comprised a major part of the utility's mission.
TVA will take the first step today toward disposing of more than one-third of its Muscle Shoals Reservation in Alabama, where TVA's first power-producing dam helped the federal agency produce most of America's phosphate fertilizer for decades.
A public hearing today will gather comments on a TVA environmental study to determine whether the agency should dispose of 1,380 acres that TVA quit using for fertilizer development in the 1980s.
"At this point, Muscle Shoals is really an underutilized reservation as our operations have declined there over the years," said Tony Hopson, a project manager overseeing the environmental impact study of TVA's plans. "We think that putting this property to other use could result in opportunities for economic growth in the region."
Northwest Alabama officials, who once complained that TVA improperly bypassed Muscle Shoals for its headquarters, said they now support TVA's plan to limit its local holdings. TVA employs only one-fourth as many workers in Muscle Shoals as it did a generation ago, when the agency began phasing out its fertilizer production programs.
"TVA has been a vital part of the Shoals region and we hope they will continue to be," Muscle Shoals Mayor David Bradford said. "But at this point we're open to looking at new opportunities for some of this property."
Since TVA shut down the last of its fertilizer operations in 1988, the agency has demolished 34 buildings on the targeted property. But several offices and warehouses remain for possible redevelopment.
Forrest Wright, president of the Shoals Economic Development Authority, said the land TVA is proposing to make available could support industrial, commercial, recreational and residential development.
"Because of its central location and access to nearby highways and river connections, I think it has a lot of opportunity," he said.
TVA still operates its power service shop in the Shoals area and conducts some environmental research with its current staff of more than 600 workers. But TVA's pioneering work in fertilizer development, which employed nearly 2,800 people three decades ago, was halted when the utility lost congressional funding in the early 1980s.
Muscle Shoals helped spawn TVA in 1933 when the federal government decided to take over the War Department's nitrate plant to make fertilizer using the just-completed Wilson Dam on the Tennessee River.
The TVA act established the utility as a multipurpose agency to help the impoverished Southern Appalachian region with electricity, flood control and agricultural and economic development, among other missions.
The original act envisioned TVA's headquarters in Muscle Shoals. But the agency shifted its top staff to Knoxville when TVA began building Norris Dam as the first dam of its own. The dam is on the Clinch River north of Knoxville.
Buster Smith, a 71-year-old retiree who serves on the Shoals Economic Development Authority, likened TVA's decision to dispose of part of its Muscle Shoals Reservation to the closing of an Army base and the subsequent sale of the military property.
"It can make land available to produce jobs and development," he said. "We hope that can happen here."
Mr. Smith said local officials would have preferred that TVA was based in Muscle Shoals, "but I don't believe in things that aren't going to happen."
* TVA will conduct a hearing today from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Muscle Shoals High School on the environmental impact statement being conducted on the disposal of 1,380 acres of TVA property.
* Comments on TVA's plans for its Muscle Shoals Reservation may be submitted through Aug. 5 to tva.gov/environment/reports/comments.htm