Employees from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s environmental study team were accompanied by an armed TVA police officer as they conducted core samplings Tuesday, on properties that are the subject …
Employees from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s environmental study team were accompanied by an armed TVA police officer as they conducted core samplings Tuesday, on properties that are the subject of a legal dispute between the federally owned corporation and several Meigs County landowners.
According to Greg Vital, one of the landowners, the four-person environmental study team spent two hours walking along the existing TVA right of way. The group then walked one of the four proposed routes by TVA and crossed Gunstocker Creek onto the properties, Vital said.
Vital said the TVA employees said they were not conducting tests but were seen taking core samples along the route. They said their mission was only to observe the “natural features” of the land.
Vital said the armed guard would not specify where he was from, only that he was from “Hamilton."
He said it was the third team that has visited the properties. However, Tuesday's group was the first to enter his property.
“The first two were TVA contractors, and they were friendly and engaging, willing to answer questions,” Vital said.
However, Vital said the team that appeared on Tuesday was less than willing to speak.
“Then today, TVA employees show up and act secretive and arrogantly, just like TVA has been acting since this started last August,” Vital said. “Once again, TVA shows that it would rather intimidate than build community relations in Georgetown.”
TVA spokesperson Scott Fiedler told the Cleveland Daily Banner the armed guards were TVA employees. He said they were present due to threats that were received on a social media website that opposes the TVA project.
"It was a TVA police officer," Fiedler said. "He was there for the safety of the employees and the public."
A review of the posts on the Facebook group Stop Destroying Tennessee Farms revealed the following comments:
"Build a killdozer," wrote Frank Lewis
"They don't have guns in Tennessee?" Jeffrey Garland wrote.
"I fell (sic) for the man or woman that comes to my land and tries to take it," wrote Bobby Gobble Jr.
One commenter used a Bible verse to make his point.
"You cheat a man of his property, stealing his family's inheritance," Mark West wrote. "But this is what the Lord says, 'I will reward your evil with evil; you won't be able to pull your neck out of the noose. You will no longer walk around proudly, for it will be a terrible time.'"
Gary Blinckmann wrote, "Land mines would be effective. Bury them and leave. When the construction equipment comes in ... BOOM."
Fiedler said the work conducted Tuesday included cultural, biological and engineering surveys. He said the cultural surveys consisted of verifying if any Cherokee-related artifacts were onsite — something the landowners claim may be possible.
Regarding the right to enter on the properties, Fiedler stated that the TVA had that right as determined during a hearing held late last year in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee.
"We acquired the right to do the surveys," Fiedler said.
He said the TVA's goal is to purchase easements on the property.
"Ultimately, we want to purchase an easement," Fiedler said. "The property owners will retain the title. It's their property – TVA is just purchasing an easement."
If any artifacts are found on the properties, Fiedler said they would be "identified, studied and returned to the property owners, who are the rightful owners of the artifacts."
The legal wranglings flared after the TVA announced its intention to construct a $26 million new transmission line that would begin at its Sequoyah Nuclear plant and extend northwest about 5.25 miles to the proposed Gunstocker Creek station, which would be located at the intersections of Highways 58 and 60 in Meigs County.
The line will also run through portions of Bradley and Hamilton counties, connecting to the planned systems’ control facility.
About 4.25 miles of existing line will be torn down and replaced with double-circuit poles.
The transmission line project is projected to be complete by 2021.
In addition, the project would relocate the agency’s downtown Chattanooga operations center to a 185,000-square-foot, $300 million systems control facility located on 167 acres near Georgetown and Gunstocker Creek. It is projected to be completed and running by 2023.
About 175 employees would be transferred from the current aging facility.
The undertaking is codenamed "Project Viper."
In November, the TVA went to federal court in Chattanooga and filed a “quick take” eminent domain action to allow it immediate access to the properties.
The property owners — Vital, John and Bridget Vantiegham, Nellie Mae Carter and Cornerstone Farm — are represented by Chattanooga attorneys Roger W. Dickson, C. Crews Townsend and M. Height Frost.
The filings joined a lawsuit originally filed by Vital, who took legal action on Dec. 7, as first reported by the Banner.
Earlier this month, Federal Court Judge Harry “Sandy” Mattice once again denied a motion by the property owners to set aside a Nov. 30 order that allows the TVA immediate access to their properties.
The property owners hired lawyers and sought to set aside the order, but Federal Court Judge Sandy Mattice said the power of the 1933 TVA Act and the evolution of the law over decades prevented him from acting.
Vital and the landowners have also argued that the TVA's project could damage Cherokee artifacts that may be present on the properties.
In a story previously published in the Cleveland Daily Banner, the property owners said they would be “soliciting proposals from environment/archeological consulting firms familiar with the Cherokee heritage of the rural community as the TVA moves forward with a 'quick take' condemnation action against four pieces of private property.”
Meigs County was the setting of one of several staging areas for the Trail of Tears, where Cherokee people were forcibly removed from East Tennessee, as well as other areas of the Southeast, in 1838.
“It is also well known that there is reasonable expectation that Cherokee artifacts may exist on the land,” Vital said. “We are not going to trust TVA to tell the truth, so we will look to move forward on our own.”
Although Mattice’s decision Friday ruled in favor of the TVA, he did acknowledge the federally owned corporation had utilized the overwhelming power granted to it by Congress in the 1933 TVA Act.
“Mr. Vital’s consternation with what is transpiring in this action is understandable and very familiar to this court,” Mattice said.
The property owners have repeatedly asserted the TVA had intentionally misled them when it announced the project in August, claiming it had not negotiated in good faith regarding the project that had been in the planning stages since 2015.
Fiedler said the TVA will continue working with the property owners. In addition, he said the project will benefit everyone the region.
"The project will enable TVA to provide low-cost energy, as well as generate jobs in the Tennessee Valley," Fiedler said.
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