Fight continues to keep homes floating on TVA reservoirs

Gary B. Gray • Updated Sep 12, 2016 at 3:57 PM

North Carolina’s two U.S. senators have introduced legislation in an effort to rewrite the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 and nullify the Tennessee Valley Authority’s decision to remove floating homes from its reservoirs.

Hundreds of people in Northeast Tennessee have invested in these structures, and their hope is to retain their right on both recreation and a return on those investments 

Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis introduced the legislation last week in an attempt to protect 400 floating home owners on North Carolina’s Fontana Lake. A companion bill was introduced in the House soon after.

The TVA board of directors voted in May to prohibit new floating homes on all of its 49 reservoirs in seven Southeastern states. The federal legislation was filed as an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, which clears a path for TVA to enforce the removal of all of the structures within 30 years. The act also requires all floating houses to get new TVA permits and meet its structural, electrical and other standards.

Boone Lake property owners have tried to connect with Tennessee U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, but there has been little to no response, said Karen Jenkins, who owns a home that is floating on the area lake.

“Although both Alexander and Corker have received hundreds of calls from floating home owners here in Tennessee, to my knowledge they’ve sat on their laurels and done nothing,” Jenkins said. “I’ve been told the amendment did make it in, and this issue is not dead.”

Though the TVA oversees waterways throughout the Southeast,Tennessee is the only state entirely within its jurisdiction. The amendment basically says the “floating cabins” would be allowed as long as all fees are kept current.

TVA officials have said many of the floating homes are moored illegally, creating navigation and safety risks and degraded water quality. TVA also is imposing new regulations and fees, including a 50-cents-per-square-foot annual fee, in addition to mooring fees, pump fees and property taxes.

“We are aware of the legislation,” said Jim Hopson, TVA public relations manager. “As a federal agency, we don’t have an opinion for or against the legislation. If Congress changes the act, TVA will comply. “Obviously, this was a difficult decision for our board of directors. TVA is concerned public waters are being privatized, and that there are environmental concerns.”

Hopson said the agency is committed to ongoing dialogue with floating home owners and others about the changes.

“There are houses valued from $2,000 to $200,000,” said Knoxville-based Tennessee Valley Floating Home Alliance President Mike Wilkes. “There have been investments made in good conscience, and people had long-term plans for those investments. Their (TVA) contention is this is private use of public waters. I don’t know what their motivation is.”

About 98 percent of the properties on TVA lakes and reservoirs are moored at marinas that have lease agreements with the agency. There currently are 113 houseboats moored at Boone Lake, 117 at South Holston Lake and 37 at Watauga Lake, according to the TVA.

The Tennessee General Assembly passed resolutions earlier this year supporting the owners and expressing their desire to keep the properties on TVA reservoirs. However, TVA is not bound by state law.

“Our group was formed in March, and we have supporters from all states,” Wilkes said. “At the time we formed, TVA wanted to set the grandfathered time at 20 years. They changed that to 30 in May. We continue to pick up support at the federal level, and TVA officials have been communicating with the group.”

TVA provides electricity for business customers and local power distributors serving 9 million people. It receives no taxpayer funding, deriving virtually all of its revenues from sales of electricity.

The agency provides flood control, navigation and land management for the Tennessee River system and assists local power companies and state and local governments with economic development and job creation.

To learn more about the Tennessee Valley Floating Home Alliance go to tvfha.org. For information on the Tennessee Valley Authority visit www.tva.gov.

Email Gary Gray at [email protected]. Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.





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