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TVA closing the door on floating houses

Gary B. Gray • Updated Apr 26, 2016 at 4:16 PM

The Tennessee Valley Authority wants to remove floating houses, or “non-navigable structures,” from its state reservoirs after an economic impact study that shows a significant number of the floating houses have been built and docked over the past 10 years.

Developers are proposing residential-type communities on the reservoirs, and the TVA study reveals the rapid growth in recent years of unpermitted floating houses has raised concerns about potential environmental and safety impacts.

Washington County commissioners on Monday unanimously voted to support a joint state Senate resolution that urges the TVA to reject a sunset provision that would require the removal of all houseboats within the next 20 years.

Though legislators, local elected officials and houseboat owners are united in their opposition, TVA is a federal agency, and most agree there is little legal action that can be could be taken at the state or local level.

“The Senate wants all boat houses to be grandfathered in,” Karen Jenkins, who owns a floating house docked on Boone Lake, told county commissioners Monday. “The former owners of our boathouse was given the permit in 1978, but apparently they’re saying now they’re getting out of hand. “It’s like they’re coming and saying, ‘we’re going to take your home from you.’ ”

Jenkins said she pays an annual $1,700 fee for the privilege of of docking at Serenity Cove. She also said it has been and remains TVA’s duty to enforce and manage certain standards and requirements.

In 1977, TVA amended its regulations to prohibit non-navigable houseboats except for those in existence before February 15, 1978. Since 2000, its policy apparently has been to temporarily allow floating houses in its 16 reservoirs, the Tennessee River and its tributaries that meet the minimum safety and environmental standards.

“Because our lake house is pre-1978, I thought they would grandfather us in,” Jenkins said. “That’s why I’m confused about what they’re doing now. It doesn’t bother me that they are now upgrading the standards. But why do that if they are just going to remove them? It’s going to cost a lot of people a lot of money.”

The updated requirements include minimum standards for electrical safety, as well as compliance with local, state and federal sewage and wastewater regulations.

A statewide effort to fight the move is being conducted by Save Our Floating Homes. The group has gathered more than 2,000 signatures so far, and has talked about a possible class-action lawsuit.

TVA’s board of directors will meet May 5 in Buchanan, where a “listening session” will be held for the public. The TVA will accept public comments for 30 days once it publishes a notice “of proposed rule-making in the Federal Register — a daily federal government publication that issues proposed and final administrative regulations.

“We’re basically in the mud now,” said Randy Greear, who also owns a floating house on Boone Lake. “Now, if this goes through, we’ll have to move. It’s obvious to me they’re trying to clear boat houses from TVA lakes.”

An estimated 1,800 structures, used primarily for habitation, line TVA reservoirs and rivers. The federal agency has jurisdiction under Section 26a of the TVA Act to regulate obstructions that affect navigation, flood control or public lands across, along or in the Tennessee River or any of its tributaries. TVA also is permitted to set conditions of land-use agreements with commercial marina operators.

Email Gary Gray at ggray@johnsoncitypress.com. Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

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