Higher planned TVA fees may endanger jobs along river

Higher planned TVA fees may endanger jobs along river

March 26th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Tourism and recreation are vital parts of the Chattanooga-area economy, so anything that might adversely affect those industries concerns everyone in our region.

For instance, a controversy is brewing over some higher fees planned by the Tennessee Valley Authority. While we can see why heavily indebted TVA would seek more revenue, its plan to slap potentially much higher costs on hundreds of businesses along shorelines in the Chattanooga area is worrisome.

A lot of those commercial-use fees have been in the range of $400 to $1,200 per year, which TVA considers too low. So starting in 2013, the federally owned utility plans to require the affected businesses -- often marinas, campgrounds and such -- to pay either 4 percent of their gross revenue or what is deemed to be a more market-value rental rate for the use of public land.

"These folks are in private business making money off of public land," said Bill Sitton, a spokesman for TVA.

That may be true. But it is also true that government fees, rents and taxes do not exist in a vacuum. They ripple throughout the economy by diverting money out of the productive private sector. The shoreline businesses facing higher TVA-imposed costs provide badly needed jobs. Significantly higher costs to those businesses -- some of which are small mom-and-pop operations -- are sure to reduce investment in new jobs, may make it harder for the companies to maintain their existing staffing levels and may even threaten the survival of some companies.

In fact, the planned increases already are raising those concerns.

"[W]ith this recent land and shoreline policy change, they want a percentage of your gross income or your base fee," said Larry Steidle, who owns and runs Blue Springs Marina near Ten Mile, Tenn. "I doubt if my bills can withstand that." He said the planned fees are prompting some small recreational operations to shut down.

Rhea County Mayor George Thacker was equally blunt.

"You're killing us," he said of the new fees during a meeting of TVA's board of directors. He asked for a moratorium.

And Meigs County Executive Garland Lankford pointed out that both Meigs and Rhea counties rely on tourist dollars that come into marinas and other businesses along Watts Bar Lake.

With unemployment in both Meigs and Rhea counties currently over 11 percent -- and with unemployment painfully high throughout our region and unlikely to drop significantly soon -- it does not seem sensible for TVA to be mapping out new costs that may well kill jobs.