Boone Lake property owners want TVA to reduce risk posed by uncut vegetation

David Floyd • Oct 29, 2019 at 11:00 PM

John and Betty Payne are getting ready to break ground on a house on Boone Lake, but they’ve encountered a problem that could making enjoying the lake a little difficult.

“The cove that we’re getting ready to build in is covered with trees and vegetation from one side to the other,” said John Payne, “and once the lake fills up, we couldn’t navigate from our dock out to the main channel because of the growth.”

The Paynes were among dozens of attendees at a Boone Dam Repair Coalition meeting Tuesday evening at the BrightRidge auditorium, which was held to discuss the Tennessee Valley Authority’s vegetation management efforts around Boone Lake.

TVA has dropped lake levels from the normal summer pool level of 1,382 feet to about 1,350 feet as crews install a cutoff wall along the Boone Dam embankment, exposing hundreds of aces of lakebed. TVA expects the repair project will be complete in 2022.

TVA has so far mulched roughly 650 acres of plant life, and the coalition wants to see TVA continue its efforts.

“They’re not the experts in vegetation removal,” Jerry Townsend, a founding member of the coalition, told attendees. “They’re not the experts in identifying where the hazards on this lake are for vegetation. ... You know who’s the expert for that? You folks. You live on the lake. You know the lake like the back of your hand.”

Payne said he emailed TVA about the vegetation growing on his property, but was told the agency didn’t have plans to remove it because their vehicles wouldn’t be able to navigate the terrain.

Members of the organization are concerned that uncut trees and plant life could pose a navigation risk to boaters and swimmers once lake levels return to normal.

“If you have children and you’ve been pulling those children behind a boat, skiing or tubing, in the old days before the drawdown, you knew exactly where the hazards were,” Townsend said. “The vegetation growing up, if it’s not removed, you’re not going to have that feeling of where those hazards are. And if you don’t have that feeling of where these hazards are, you’re going to be uncomfortable pulling your child or grandchild behind your boat.”

Townsend said rocky areas, soft soil and newly discovered cultural areas have slowed the progress of the cutting.

Members of the Boone Dam Repair Coalition recently toured the lake and took photos of uncut areas, compiling the images in an interactive Google Map. Townsend said the organization has shared that data with TVA and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and plans on updating it.

“We’re not saying that TVA is not going to step up to the bar and cut it,” Townsend said. “We’re just saying we want to make sure they do, and we’re willing to help because it’s a big project.”

He said the window of opportunity to address uncut vegetation closes in the spring of 2021, when the TVA will begin fluctuating the water level to test the repairs to the dam.

Townsend said the coalition has proposed creating a working committee — composed of representatives from the TWRA, the Boone Lake Association, the Boone Dam Repair Coalition, homeowners and business owners — to help TVA with the removal of vegetation.

“We want to help TVA identify areas that need vegetation removal, help TVA brainstorm cost-effective solutions for those rocky areas they couldn’t cut, that soft soil they couldn’t get their equipment into and those cultural sites,” Townsend said.

TVA has completed its cutting program for the 2019 calendar year, but agency spokesperson Mary Ellen Miller said last week that TVA and will reevaluate its supplemental vegetation management program in the new year.

“The plan is right now that we would be moving forward with some additional mulching,” she said last Friday.

The agency initially identified 700 acres of land to target with its management plan, and after field review, narrowed its focus to 512 acres, a revised number that took into account areas that weren’t accessible by the agency’s machines and culturally sensitive areas discovered through surveys. In total, Miller said 96 culturally sensitive areas have been identified.

After outreach with members of the public, the agency ended up mulching 650 acres of vegetation before September of this year. Principal project manager Sam Vinson said in early September that the agency has set aside $2.1 million for the supplemental vegetation management program. He said in September the agency has spent about 30% of that budget.

TVA will host a public information fair from 5-7 p.m. on Dec. 3 at Daniel Boone High School in Gray, which will include an exhibit specifically dealing with vegetation management.