More than 150 people filtered through the Tennessee Valley Authority’s public meeting in Georgetown Thursday afternoon. TVA officials sent out 74 invitations to property owners from Hopewell to Georgetown which could be impacted by the 5.25-mile transmission line upgrade, including three property owners whose farmland may be taken by eminent domain to create a new, mile-long easement leading to TVA’s new power control center in Meigs County.
TVA officials said a good turnout normally is 30% of the sent invitations, and the 16 TVA staff on hand managed a steady stream of citizens with questions regarding the project. Rep. Mike Carter, Rep. Dan Howell, Senator Mike Bell and Meigs County Mayor Bill James, Jeff Lewis from Senator Lamar Alexander’s office and other county officials attended the meeting.
The meeting room at the Cedar Ridge Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized with oversized maps, and residents kept TVA officials busy with questions in all corners of the room for almost four hours.
Greg Vital, a landowner impacted by both the transmission line upgrade and a potential eminent domain action required for a new right of way, began asking questions after TVA issued a press release on Aug. 20, announcing the transmission line upgrade that was needed to support a “new TVA secure office complex.” Inquiries raised with local, state and federal officials and on Facebook caused TVA to reveal the full nature of the $300 million project Tuesday.
“We went from a routine transmission line upgrade to this in 10 days,” said Mr. Vital of the turnout at the meeting. “The community wants to welcome new jobs but has serious questions about TVA’s transparency and lack of communication about property rights and eminent domain.”
As part of the meeting, TVA said that the new power control center would encompass 185,000 square feet and a wastewater facility to be built on site to handle sewer. The federal agency has two options to connect with Savannah Bay Utility to get water. By providing electricity directly to its site, TVA will bypass Volunteer Energy Cooperative, which serves part of Meigs, Hamilton and Bradley counties.
TVA officials described relocating the power control center from below the TVA Complex in downtown Chattanooga to a remote facility as a “once in a lifetime” project and have said one of the largest power grid upgrades in its 85-year history.
The federal agency said Wednesday that 175 employees would occupy the new facility when it is finished in 2023. TVA plans to start negotiating with landowners for the new right of way that will cut across farmland, including using government’s power of eminent domain to condemn and take the property the agency needs.
TVA officials in charge of routing the new easement were grilled with questions about alternative routes to avoid the damage to the virgin land. Vital said after the meeting that TVA representatives appeared to be willing to explore alternative routes that would not damage farmland and decrease property value.
“I hope they are genuine because this truly affects the property of 74 families from Hopewell to Georgetown,” said Mr. Vital. “The meeting reinforced to me just how significant a project this to the community. It also makes me wonder why TVA tried to keep it secret.
Vital and Meigs County Mayor James both agreed the new facility will create new revenue for his county and are excited the project is coming. James said that he was given some information confidentially six months ago from TVA engineering consultants.
“Nobody said anything about the new power lines or a project this big or eminent domain,” said Mayor James.
TVA representatives said they will explore alternatives routes for the new right of way and explore the overall impact on private property owners impacted by the proposed new transmission lines running to the secure office complex in the next month. No additional meetings were scheduled.