A battle with Tennessee Valley Authority is probably not one Chattanooga businessman Greg Vital is going to win, but it's one he believes is worth making. And we don't disagree with his premise.
Vital, the well-known co-founder of a company that develops assisted living and senior health care facilities, says TVA didn't adequately prepare for its infrastructure needs or properly inform neighbors before launching plans for its proposed $300 million power control center near Georgetown in Meigs County.
Now, he says, TVA wants to enter his farm property in southern Meigs County to gauge plans for placing a high-voltage transmission line there that will serve the new control center.
Vital says the public utility offered him a dollar to gain access to his property but has not provided any "defining scope or durational limits" of that access. The property needed for the line, he said, is to be seized through eminent domain, and the order to do so was made, according to a court filing, "before Mr. Vital entered the case and had an opportunity to respond."
To stop TVA from entering his property, the Chattanooga businessman filed suit in federal court.
Like many government entities, the federal utility has the right to condemn and take property for the public good (with compensation) to facilitate its services. A spokesman for the utility says only one mile of new right of way is needed for the five-mile transmission line. The rest, he says, would use existing right of way.
Vital's lawsuit says the power control center was planned for the area "without public announcement," but a TVA spokesman says a public information meeting was held, right-of-way owners or their representatives were consulted, and whatever questions came up were answered.
In the case of such a large project, though, we would like to have seen the utility go overboard in its transparency with all owners. If that meant waiting a day, a week or a month to file papers, so be it.
Vital says he understands the need for TVA to modernize its power reliability, and we certainly understand its desire for improved security with the power grid upgrade, but we would like to think the lines of communication — especially about something as touchy as eminent domain — should be clearer, easier and better than they were when TVA initially began to seize land for its vast power distribution system in the 1930s.
In time, a federal court may not decide the utility "has become all too comfortable with its power" or its action in this case is a "careless wielding of power," as the lawsuit and the plaintiff's attorney say, but maybe the exercise at least will prompt TVA to be more forthcoming in similar future proposals.