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With approval of 30-year sunset rule on houseboats, TVA officials speak about next steps

Zach Vance • Updated May 26, 2016 at 9:19 AM

A lot can happen in 30 years. 

The first commercially available cellphone launched 32 years ago. Now there are as many cellphone subscriptions as people on Earth. 

And the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution banning smoking on flights two hours or less in 1987, which led to a rapid succession of smoking bans within the next 29 years. 

The Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors voted 7-2 on May 5 to prohibit any new floating houses from being constructed on agency reservoirs, and to allow those already constructed to remain in place for up to 30 years before being banned.

The new policy also requires all existing floating houses to acquire a TDA permit, meet the TVA’s standards for electrical safety and fall into compliance with wastewater and sewage regulations. 

“As one of our board members pointed out during the board meeting, 30 years is a long time. Will this be what it will be 30 years from now?” Tennessee Valley Authority’s Director of Natural Resources Bucky Edmondson said. “But the main thing was to stop the number (of) houseboats that were growing.”

That’s the slight hope for houseboat owners that the director conveyed on Tuesday afternoon during a media tour of the Boone Dam construction site. 

Edmondson added, “30 years is ... we feel like it’s a good compromise.”

In 1977, TVA banned the floating houses, except for those built before Feb. 15, 1978. Despite the prohibition, the TVA expressed concern over the rapid growth of houseboats in a public notice of intent in April 2014. 

TVA estimated there were 1,900 fixed-location structures in 2014 floating on 13 TVA reservoirs. Norris and Fontana Lakes list the highest number of floating houses.

According to the recently completed final environmental impact study, Boone Lake has 133 floating houses and Watauga has 37. 

TVA spokesman Scott Fielder said the agency is now in the process of making proposed rule amendments to its current policy regarding the floating houses. 

“Between now and September 2016, TVA staff will talk with and listen to stakeholders to gain input on the future regulations and how to best implement the policy,” Fielder said. 

Edmondson said revisions would only be made concerning the implementation of removing the houseboats, but the 30-year sunset removal policy would remain intact.

The TVA concluded its environmental impact study in February after reviewing alternatives and public input. The study began in April 2014 to review the growth of floating houses and consider future management alternatives. 

The study included six alternatives, which included grandfathering existing and prohibiting new, prohibit new and remove unpermitted, enforce current regulations and manage through marinas and permits and allow current management. 

According to the TVA’s website, the preferred alternative was to allow floating houses that meet standards to remain intact for a 20-year period, but it was recommended during the board meeting to extend the sunset provision to 30 years. 

“We’ve seen rapid growth in recent years of unpermitted floating houses, many of which have been argued to be boats. This has raised concerns about preemption of public waters for private use and secondarily, environmental and safety impacts,” Fielder said in a statement. “Addressing the issue now before it becomes more extensive will help us better manage public resources and prevent the reservoirs from becoming a location for second homes. Our goal is very much to promote recreation use of the public lands and reservoirs, but to move the residential type use to the private lands along the shoreline.” 

To provide public input on amendments to the TVA’s policy on houseboats, contact Woody Farrell at 865-632-3024 or [email protected] 

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP

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