Cut the spin, TVA, and cut the trees

Johnson City Press • Nov 1, 2019 at 7:15 AM

If you stopped mowing your lawn for more than a few weeks, your neighbors probably would sic your local code enforcement office on you.

An overgrown lawn can present safety risks. Snakes, mice, rats and insects love tall grass. Excessive vegetation can damage fences and utility lines. It can even mean a fire hazard in dry conditions. It’s also an eyesore.

Residents along some sections of Boone Lake have been coping with a giant overgrown lawn for years now — the exposed lake bed necessitated by repair work at the dam.

Technically, most of the lakebed is privately owned, so our analogy doesn’t entirely hold water — so to speak — but the sudden need for lakebed vegetation management was not of the neighbors’ making.

Rightfully, many residents are asking the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide more help in clearing the growth, as Staff Writer David Floyd reported in Wednesday’s Press. Dozens showed up at BrightRidge’s auditorium Tuesday for Boone Dam Repair Coalition meeting to discuss the problem. Some were concerned that the growth could pose a navigation risk to boaters and swimmers once lake levels return to normal.

The TVA has done some work on the lakebed. The coalition reported that the utility had mulched roughly 650 acres of plant life thus far, but more is needed.

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

Why are the residents having to ask at all?

As Floyd reported, John and Betty Payne own property along a Boone Lake cove covered with trees and vegetation from one side to the other. They got a firm “no” from the TVA when they inquired about removing the growth — the utility had no plans to remove it because its vehicles could not navigate the terrain.

If TVA can’t do it, imagine the resources the Paynes and other property owners would have to marshal.

Surely TVA anticipated the growth of trees, grasses, vines and other vegetation when it was forced to draw down lake levels after a sinkhole was discovered at the dam in 2014. The growth should never have been allowed to reach the heights described by the Paynes.

In a section of its website titled “Boone Exposed Lakebed: An Owner’s Guide,” TVA ridiculously spins the exposed bed as if it were some sort of bonus to the neighbors while passing the buck on the vegetation.

“These owners get to enjoy the exclusive right to use these exposed areas as private property; however, this added benefit comes with added responsibility,” it states before offering a litany of tips, dos and don’ts for property owners.

We doubt anyone along the lake is saying thank you for that “added benefit,” especially those whose docks were rendered useless by the drawdown. We also doubt anyone anticipated that “added responsibility” of removing overgrown vegetation from muddy banks and around limestone outcroppings.

No, this was TVA’s problem — one it should have embraced from day one.

Principal project manager Sam Vinson said in early September TVA had set aside $2.1 million for vegetation management and had spent about 30% of that budget.

Last week, TVA spokesperson Mary Ellen Miller told Floyd the utility had completed its cutting program for the 2019 calendar year but planned to reevaluate its supplemental vegetation management program in the new year.

The coalition has proposed a working committee — composed of representatives from the coalition, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Boone Lake Association, homeowners and business owners — to help TVA with the removal of vegetation. Townsend said the stakeholders would help TVA brainstorm cost-effective solutions for those areas the utility could not cut.

Those solutions and their costs should not fall on the neighbors. TVA should dig deep.