Greg Vital slams TVA board in listening session

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 2/14/19

Meigs County landowner Greg Vital told members of the eight-member Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors Wednesday that the federally owned corporation is the poster child of government …

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Greg Vital slams TVA board in listening session

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Meigs County landowner Greg Vital told members of the eight-member Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors Wednesday that the federally owned corporation is the poster child of government agencies that have zero commitment to transparency.

The board was in Chattanooga for a listening session held Wednesday at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

A ninth member, who has yet to be confirmed for their appointment, was not at the meeting.

Vital, along with several other Meigs County landowners, is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with TVA over a federal court order that allows the federally owned corporation access to their lands for a transmission line project.

He said all have been impacted by the eminent domain action by TVA and its project, called Project Viper. 

“It saddens me to stand here to discuss the destruction of farmland, historical areas of significance to The Trail of Tears and a small rural community,” Vital said.

Although Vital said that while he appreciated the original intent of TVA to protect the Tennessee Valley from flooding and to bring electric service to the region, its behavior may have outlived its usefulness.

“TVA has a long history of trampling over landowners and abusing property rights while hiding behind the TVA Act of 1933,” Vital said.

As reported in previous articles in the Cleveland Daily Banner, the TVA project would 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 would 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 systems control facility located on 167 acres near Georgetown and Gunstocker Creek. It is projected to be completed and running by 2023.

Vital chastised the board, stating their professional backgrounds should enable them to be sensitive to public perception.

“Each member of the TVA Board has a background that indicates you understand customer relations and public perception, but nothing we have seen over the past six months reflects that, and the logical conclusion is that TVA has a serious problem in how it treats its customers,” Vital said.

Additionally, Vital said TVA misled Meigs County residents regarding their intent for Georgetown and Meigs County. A major point of contention between the landowners and TVA is their claim that Project Viper has been in the planning stages for four years without their knowledge. 

“The behavior we have witnessed since TVA intentionally misled the Georgetown community in August of last year about Project Viper is that of an arrogant, paranoid, disrespectful bully who could care less about private property rights, regular citizens or the land,” Vital said.

He said Project Viper “is an accurate reflection of how TVA has treated residents and citizens of Georgetown for the past six months while they planned in secret this project for the prior four years.”

“The picture of a venomous snake slithering along its way accurately portrays the behavior of TVA in Georgetown,” Vital said. “It is the 2019 version of the legacy TVA built with the Tellico Dam and Land Between the Lakes land takeovers.”

Vital said TVA’s lack of transparency regarding its intentions for the region did not give landowners time to prepare for and pursue legal action.

“Property owners hardly had time to hire lawyers before TVA was granted permission to enter the property,” Vital said.

Vital said the federal court order came after “months of useless discussions with TVA about changes to the proposed route across farmland.”

“It has not provided alternatives other than on our property but has options along the public right of way,” Vital said. “TVA could connect to power lines along the front of the site and will [do so] eventually. The intention to stall and not engage in anything resembling good-faith negotiations was obvious each time.”

Vital also criticized TVA’s use of armed guards when performing surveys at the sites. He said its intent was to intimidate the landowners.

“TVA is the organization that introduced the show of armed guards to escort archeologists and environmentalists now on the property,” Vital said. Again, acts of intimidation and arrogance.”

He also criticized TVA's use of eminent domain via federal courts to gain access to their properties.

"TVA chooses to hide behind eminent domain rather than exhibit transparency and accountability with its Project Viper in Georgetown," Vital said. "Why would any organization name its new develop Project Viper and then use eminent domain and think they can build community support?"

He lamented the impact TVA will have on the rural community, imploring TVA officials to discuss the project more openly.

"Yes, TVA is about to change the face of a rural community with Project Viper, and we ask TVA to change its approach to Georgetown going forward," Vital said. "To start, we invite TVA to come to the community and talk about the impact of Project Viper, the lack of infrastructure and community impact to a rural farming community." 

During the listening session, many of the speakers exceeded the three-minute time limit, including a 4-minute, 18-second second by a teacher from Kentucky, where TVA is planning to shutter two coal plants, according to Vital.

Vital's remarks were interrupted at the 3:28 mark.

“The whole thing was just another example of how out of touch TVA is with its customers," Vital said.  "I guess TVA staff didn’t want the board to hear all of my remarks if they had an excuse to stop it."

Vital told the Cleveland Daily Banner that Wednesday's listening session was "very scripted and very formal."

"There were no comments from anybody," Vital said of the board members.

The impact of TVA's project continues to worry Vital, who said roads and other infrastructure in the rural, isolated area of Meigs County are unprepared the upcoming project.

"There will be longterm impacts on roads," Vital said. 

TVA spokesperson Scott Fiedler told the Banner that TVA has been fully transparent and has conducted public meetings, sent letters to residents, as well as had one-on-one meetings with landowners during the last six months."

"We have worked with property owners to keep them informed of our actions," Fiedler said. "We have kept them up to date."

Fiedler said the $300 million project will bring about 200 jobs, as well as economic development to the area.

Regarding the impact on local roads, Fiedler said TVA has conducted an environmental assessment study that found the project would have minimal negative impacts on local infrastructure.

TVA is also conducting environmental surveys on the property of the landowners, which was the originally sparked the federal lawsuits.

"We went to court for the ability to do surveys," Fiedler said, adding that Vital and the other landowners in the suit will still hold the deeds to their lands.

"We just want to purchase easements," Fiedler said.


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