Land owners fight back on TVA plan for Meigs County power line

Land owners fight back on TVA plan for Meigs County power line

December 10th, 2018 by Dave Flessner in Breaking News

Greg Vital

Photo by Allison Love /Times Free Press.

This story was updated Dec. 10, 2018, at 8:21 p.m. with more information.

Meigs County landowner Greg Vital isn't giving up his Georgetown farmland to the Tennessee Valley Authority without a fight.

Vital, the president and CEO of of Morning Pointe Senior Living and owner of hundreds of acres of farmland in southern Meigs County, wants a federal court to set aside a request by TVA to enter his property to scope out plans for a new high-voltage transmission line TVA wants to put on Vital's property to serve a $300 million power control center TVA is planing to build near Georgetown.

In a motion filed in federal court, Vital's attorneys argue TVA is trying to exercise its power to take property through eminent domain "carelessly and without restrain," offering Vital only a dollar to gain access to his 72-acre property "with no defining scope or durational limits."

U.S. District Court Judge Sandy Mattice last month granted TVA temporary access to one of Vital's farms and that of three neighboring properties. TVA sought the court permission to enter the private properties to survey the site where TVA wants to erect towers for a 160,0000 kilovolt transmission line TVA is planning to serve the new system operations center TVA says it needs to build on the rural site to improve the security and reliability of its power control facility.

TVA bought 167 acres near Gunstocker Creek in southern Meigs County last year to build a new systems operations center to replace its existing control center located beneath TVA's Missionary Ridge building in the Chattanooga office Complex downtown. The new facility, which TVA hopes to have in full operations within five years, is part of one of TVA's biggest upgrades of its power grid in the utility's 85-year history.

The new 185,000-square-foot power control center would house about 175 employees who now work in downtown Chattanooga and is being built to accommodate TVA's new energy management system. The new center will include new load control and dispatch equipment and be linked with $300 million of upgraded fiber optic lines TVA is installing along many of the 16,000 miles of transmission lines it operates in its 7-state region.

The rural Meigs County site was chosen for the new system operations center to provide greater security than in the downtown site, making it less vulnerable to electromagnetic pulse attacks or other potential threats to TVA's power grid.

Vital said he understands the need for TVA's focus on power reliability, but he questions why TVA didn't do more to prepare for infrastructure needs or talk with neighboring residents before launching its plans.

"TVA continues to trample the rights of individual property owners in Georgetown to its advantage," said Vital. "It has chosen to buy some property and condemn others. They are abusing their power of eminent domain."

The motion by Vital's lawyers says that TVA went to court for the order of possession "before Mr. Vital entered the case and had an opportunity to respond."

Vital, who has been a major donor to the Cherokee Removal Memorial in Meigs County, said TVA's attempt to take his property has given him a deeper understanding of how Native Americans and others were victimized by the power of the federal government to seize property.

"The injustice done to the Cherokees who lost their land has hit home with me personally," Vital wrote in a recent Facebook post. "Somehow, it's always about the federal government wanting your land!"

Aaron Melda, vice president of transmission operations and power supply for TVA, said TVA needs transmission rights-of-way on four properties to get more power to the new systems operation center TVA is building as part of its "Grid 2023" program. Melda said the new center "will be transformative and provide us a platform for the future to position TVA to provide the most competitive and reliable power."

TVA is planning a $26 million high-voltage transmission line to the site of the new center. TVA said the new line will be built using double-circuit steel poles on 4.25 miles of an existing 100-foot-wide right of way and on another mile of new 100- to 150-foot-wide right of way.

Under President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal legislation that created TVA, the federal utility has the right to condemn and take property, with just compensation, if it is in the public good to facilitate TVA services.

But in a 10-page memorandum filed in federal court to block TVA gaining access to Vital's property, attorney C. Crews Townsend said TVA acted "arbitrarily" and pushed through its preferred route for the transmission lines simply to be "more aesthetically pleasing" than the alternatives proposed by Vital and others.

"In 1933, Congress anointed the TVA with an incredible power — the power to take the property of private citizens in the name of the United States of America through eminent domain," Townsend said. "Congress granted the TVA this power so that it could provide great public benefit. However, as so often happens when incredible power is given, the TVA has become all too comfortable with its power."

Vital's lawsuit questioned why TVA made its decision to relocate a major power operation to a rural area "without public announcement" and calls the action "careless wielding of power."

TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler said TVA purchased the building site from a willing seller in the summer of 2017, "and we are using existing right of way to minimize public impact.

"Only one mile of new right of way is needed to support this five-mile (transmission) line," Fielder said.

TVA has sought a temporary easement with a few property owners "which allows us to survey the proposed transmission route," Fielder said.

"We've held a public information meeting," he said. "We've spoken to all the new right-of-way owners or representatives and met individually with owners that agreed to meet with us to answer any routing questions, listen to requests and concerns, and/or discuss requested routing adjustments."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.


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