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Greg Vital, center, a landowner in Georgetown, talks with Meigs County Mayor Bill James during TVA's public hearing Thursday on plans for a $26 million transmission line upgrade to serve a new $300 million system operations center to be built in south Meigs County.

TVA's plans to relocate its power control center from downtown Chattanooga to rural Meigs County will help the federal utility gain a more secure and modern energy management system, TVA officials said Thursday during a public hearing about the plan.

The new $300 million system operations center planned just north of Georgetown also should give the rural area an economic boost from the shift to nearly 200 workers and more TVA tax payments to Meigs County, local officials said.

"It will bring more jobs and money to our area and we need it since we're such a small, rural county," Meigs County Mayor Bill James said. "We certainly do appreciate TVA coming to our county and, while we are growing, I think this will help us grow even more."

But during Thursday's public hearing in Georgetown, some landowners expressed concerns about the siting of new power lines to be built to serve the new facility and whether moving the systems operations center out of Hamilton County will reduce TVA tax payments in Hamilton County and thereby hurt local schools.

"I am extremely concerned about the impact this is going to have on our schools," said state Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, who represents northern Hamilton County. "TVA is one of the largest taxpayers in Tennessee and they pay each county according to the investment in that county. This is a massive move of taxes from Hamilton to Meigs and when you have a loss of tax revenues to the schools that has to be made up by a tax increase on those who remain or it comes out of the county's budget somewhere else."

In fiscal 2018, TVA paid Hamilton County $2.4 million in county taxes and a comparable amount to municipalities in Hamilton County based upon its tax equivalent payment formula that uses the number of customers and TVA's investment in an area to calculate such payments.

TVA will remain one of Hamilton County's biggest payers of property taxes even with the move of its power control center. But officials have not yet calculated how much may shift from Hamilton to Meigs County after the new $300 million power control center is built.

As initially designed, the new power control facility will include 185,000 square feet and be built near the center of 167 acres that TVA acquired last summer to site its systems operations center in a more rural area. Currently, the power control center is located in the basement of the Missionary Ridge building in TVA's downtown Chattanooga Office Complex.

Howard and Estella Woods sold TVA the majority of the site last year from just over $6,000 an acre on a vacant site in the southern tip of Meigs County that Woods said he has owned for more than two decades.

"In the long run, I think this is going to help the Georgetown area," Woods said.

But Greg Vital, another landowner in the area who owns much of the land TVA wants an easement on for a new power line, said he is concerned about the proposed route of a new 161 kilovolt transmission line and the way TVA has been so secretive about its plans before the past few days.

"We think there is a better alternative route for these power lines," Vital said. "We understand the need for TVA to have a strong and secure power grid, but they just need to be more transparent about their plans."

Vital questioned why TVA didn't propose a more direct route for its transmission line extension along Highway 58. But Keith Elder, senior manager of transmission line engineering at TVA, said the utility is trying to be as environmentally sensitive with its power lines as possible and protect the terrain and wetlands in the area.

TVA sent out 74 letters to property owners earlier this month telling them a new transmission line was needed for a "secured office." But with the exception of the Meigs County mayor, most local elected officials said they were unaware of TVA's plans for a $300 million facility in the area even though it has been under internal discussion and being planned by TVA for the past couple of years.

"I know Chattanooga may hate to see TVA's power control center go elsewhere, but they need a more secure location with the threats that exist in the world we live in today," said state Rep. Mike Bell, who represents Meigs County. "I just want TVA to be as transparent and open as possible. It did concern me that so many of us were not told about what TVA's plans were in advance and I think TVA was kind of caught with its pants down."

Although initially coy about their plans, TVA officials were on hand Thursday night to answer questions from more than 100 interested persons.

David Stinson, the project manager for the new system operations center, said ground should be broken by next spring on the estimated $187 million facility, which is scheduled to be built by 2021 and in full operation five years from now as part of TVA's upgraded "Grid 2023" program. TVA is installing a new energy management system and building its own sewage treatment facility on the secured site, bringing the total cost to about $300 million.

"The security of a facility makes it more expensive, but this is the trend in our industry to build upgraded centralized system operation centers in remote areas," Stinson said, noting similar facilities that have or are now being built in rural areas by Georgia Power, Dominion Power, Duke Energy and others.

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

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