Lawsuit heats up between TVA and landowners

Petitioners wanting questions answered

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 1/2/18

In an ongoing battle between between Meigs County landowner Greg Vital and the Tennessee Valley Authority, attorneys representing Vital, as well as three other landowners, have filed suit claiming …

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Lawsuit heats up between TVA and landowners

Petitioners wanting questions answered

Posted

In an ongoing battle between between Meigs County landowner Greg Vital and the Tennessee Valley Authority, attorneys representing Vital, as well as three other landowners, have filed suit claiming the federally owned corporation has failed with certain requirements needed to gain temporary access to their land.

The suit, filed Dec. 28 with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Chattanooga, lists several questions the petitioners claim the TVA has not answered in defending an order for gaining immediate access to the properties for a planned $300 million project codenamed “Project Viper.” 

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 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 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.

Last month, attorneys representing three property owners filed suit in federal court asking Judge Sandy Mattice to set aside a court ruling granting the TVA immediate access to their property for the transmission line project.

The property owners — 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 Cleveland Daily Banner.

The TVA filed a lawsuit against Vital and other area property owners last month in the same court, which later ruled in favor of the agency. 

The landowners' filing states the TVA’s treatment of their property rights “shows at best the cavalier attitude and at worst the arrogant attitude of the TVA’s approach to this duty.”

The filing says the TVA failed to:

 • Offer a description of the land it is taking using its power of eminent domain;

 • Define the property to be taken from property owners; and

 • Estimate a real value of the land and deposit  amount in court.

The legal action states that “compliance with all of these things is required before the TVA can take property under the Quick State Statute.”

The defendants' suit also calls into question the TVA's failure to provide just compensation, claiming the agency's compensation to be $1.

According to a press release from Vital, as “an example of the abuse of the property owners, the brief cites the property owned by John and Bridget Vantiegham. To date, TVA has not identified what property it intends to take from the Vantiegham property, which includes a residence,” the release stated.

In the court filing,  the defendants' attorneys wrote “the severe language of the order and the undefined property right is especially impactful with a residence. Whatever work the TVA does on the Vantiegham’s property will be near where they live. They cannot protect their rights if TVA’s work becomes intrusive without knowing what property rights they have.”

The filing also argues that the TVA has given Vital four different routes the proposed right of way may take across his property, stating that the “TVA’s brief does not clarify what it will do with Mr. Vital’s property nor does it specify what it can do.”

Continuing, the documents claim that “most of Mr. Vital’s property is at risk to what the TVA might do. Because the rights retained by Mr. Vital are completely undefined, it is not certain that he can do anything to influence the TVA’s actions in any way,” the document stated.

The four landowners request the court set aside the order granting the TVA temporary access to their lands, and require the federal agency to “perform its statutory duties before it is given the right of entry onto the defendants’ properties.”

Additionally, the defendants’ ask the court to “give meaning to requirements imposed by Congress” and that “The TVA should clearly define the property rights it seeks and then fairly estimate the value of the property interest it takes."

According to a brief filed by the TVA, its attorneys state the federal court did not err in its order of possession decision, stating that "the defendants' motion is due to be denied because the court issued the order upon TVA's satisfaction of the Taking Act's 'quick take' requirements."

In addition, in response to the landowners' claims of TVA's failure to define the property to be taken, the TVA attorneys state that the Taking Act "must include a description of the land taken that is sufficient to identify the land."

The brief states that the landowner's properties were identified by "land tax parcel and recorded deed and the property rights taken with respect to land."

Furthermore, the TVA attorneys state the "governmental taking does not involve a permanent and exclusive occupation that destroyed Vital's right to possess, use or dispose of his property."

Accordingly, they state, Vital "remains in possession of his property, and he has the right to occupy it subject to [TVA's] temporary right to enter onto his land to survey and perform other activities listed in the Declaration of Taking."

Regarding just compensation, the TVA attorneys state that "the defendant ... will have the opportunity to introduce evidence at trial in support of his claim that the amount of compensation award for the temporary right to enter onto his land should be more than $1, but defendant's brief cites no authority holding that a landowner's challenge to the amount of the compensation is sufficient grounds to unwind the government's statutory right to condemn using quick take procedures."


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