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Greg Vital, President and CEO of Independent Healthcare Properties, LLC, is photographed in the company's new offices in Ooltewah.

This story was updated at 6:40 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, with more information.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has agreed to reroute a proposed high-voltage transmission line in southern Meigs County where the utility plans to build a new $300 million system operations center in Georgetown in the next three years.

In response to concerns raised by local residents about Native American artifacts potentially being disturbed by transmission line towers on the first couple of TVA's proposed routes, the federal utility shifted its original path for the 161,000-volt line to the west about 300 feet. The new route for part of the 5.2-mile power line, which is needed to power TVA's proposed new power control facility, appears to have won environmental, historical and neighborhood approval, according to a new study released by TVA.

Greg Vital, the president and CEO of of Morning Pointe Senior Living and owner of hundreds of acres of farmland in southern Meigs County, urged TVA over the past year to reroute the transmission line to better protect Native American artifacts and culturally significant sites.

"We all benefit when we respect our history and the land," Vital said. "The property owners never opposed the TVA project, and we are pleased to be close to a final compromise moving the project forward."

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The transmission line will be built over the next three years to power the system operations center TVA is relocating to a 167-acre site in Georgetown, which officials said is more secure and modern than the downtown facility it will replace.

TVA's current power control facility is housed in its Chattanooga Office Complex downtown, but utility officials said the facility needs to be upgraded as part of TVA's "Grid 2023" transmission modernization program and the rural site in Georgetown offers more property to act as a buffer for security against cyber or physical attacks.

(Read TVA's environmental report on the new system operations center here.)

The new 180,000-square-foot complex in Georgetown will house TVA's new energy management system that works with smart technology to help increase the region's electric reliability and offer electromagnetic pulse protection.

Vital initially sued TVA to try to block the transmission line to the Meigs County facility last year. Although the court rejected Vital's claim, he successfully appealed to TVA's board, the local congressional delegation and TVA executives to convince the utility to reroute the power line.

The new route still goes over property Vital and his partners own on their Cornerstone Farm in south Meigs County. But Vital said it avoids areas where Native American artifacts or mounds have been found.

In February 2019, Vital identified cultural resources on the proposed route, which TVA and Vital independently studied. In response to such findings, TVA agreed to work with Vital and other property owners to find an acceptable alternative for the final location of the 1-mile transmission line.

"We appreciate the efforts of Mr. Vital and other important stakeholders and we have a proposal that respects the resources and allows the development of this new center in Meigs County to proceed," Clayton Clem, vice president of strategic transmission projects, said in a statement.

In addition to Vital and the property owners, Clem said TVA worked with the Tennessee State Historic Preservation Office and federally recognized Native American Tribes to ensure culturally sensitive sites were protected.

Clem said the new systems operations center to be built in Meigs County is a critical investment for the entire Tennessee Valley and "one of the biggest technological upgrades in TVA history."

Relocating the operations center in Georgetown is part of a $2.2 billion plan to upgrade transmission assets and limit chances of a terrorist attack or natural disaster that might affect TVA's power control operations.

In a 338-page environmental assessment of the project, TVA said "certain physical security vulnerabilities remain" at the utility's existing power control center beneath the Chattanooga Office Complex at Market and 11th streets downtown. Last month, for instance, a water main break left thousands of downtown workers without water for days and TVA was forced to relocate personnel in its systems operations center downtown to TVA's remote operations center off of Amnicola Highway until water service could be restored.

"As growth in downtown Chattanooga continues, the SOC [system operations center] will be at an increased risk for similar events that could occur without warning and with the timing of repair outside of TVA control," TVA said in its report on the new Meigs County facility.

Despite his objections to the original power line route, Vital said he understands the need for the new TVA facility.

"This is a monumental project for the Georgetown community and for Meigs County," he said.

TVA is now in the process of public comment on the draft environmental assessment that considers the potential environmental impacts of the construction and operation of the operations center, transmission line and new substation.

Details on the project are part of a draft environmental assessment posted at www.tva.com/nepa. Public comment may be provided on the assessment through Nov. 29.

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

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