Georgetown Property Owner asks Federal Judge To Stop Immediate Access to Private Property

Says TVA ‘careless’ in use of eminent domain power; Calls TVA lawsuit ‘vague’ and ‘overbroad;’

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Lawyers for Georgetown property owner Greg Vital went to court Friday and ask Federal Judge Sandy Mattice to set aside the court’s order giving TVA immediate access to the property the TVA needs for Project Viper, a $300 million “secure office complex” that moves the agency’s power control plant from downtown Chattanooga to Georgetown in Meigs County.

Chattanooga attorneys Roger W. Dickson, C. Crews Townsend and M. Heith Frost filed the motion, which asks for the order to be set aside and says the TVA must:

  • File specific documents to establish a “temporary right to enter Mr. Vital’s land, rather than divest him entirely of possession of his property for an indeterminate time and scope;”

  • Define the activities the TVA may perform on the property and the times they may perform these activities;

  • Define the property rights Vital retains during what TVA calls a “temporary” taking;

  • Alternatively, the defendant’s motion as asks that the Court set aside the order due to the TVA’s failure to estimate and deposit just compensation for the actual taking.

The motion by Vital’s lawyers says that TVA went to court for the order of possession “before Mr. Vital entered the case and had an opportunity to respond, and they are vague, overbroad, and the order seems to grant to the TVA a property right that is more than what the TVA is presently entitled to and is worth more than $1.00.”

Lawyers for Vital contend the motion that the TVA filings are so broad that “TVA’s careless use of power has in this instance resulted—possibly inadvertently—in an actual taking which the TVA’s deposit of $1.00 in nominal compensation is inadequate.” Additionally, the motion says that the case has resulted “in an actual taking that is far more expansive than simply the right to enter onto private land to perform surveying activities.

The filing takes exception with the idea that the TVA has sought only temporary access to the private property. It says,  “Temporary property right can only, by its nature, be granted for a defined duration of time, otherwise it is not temporary. And yet, as things stand today, the TVA appears to have been granted what amounts to a permanent property right.” Additionally, the legal brief asserts that 

“principles of substantial justice and fairness dictate that when taking a citizen’s property, the TVA should be required to define that which is to be taken.”

The filing details the power of eminent domain given to the TVA in the 1933 TVA Act, and the motion notes that “as so often happens when incredible power is given, the TVA has

become all too comfortable with its power.” A fact supporting this view is that Vital has yet to be officially served with the Nov. 20 lawsuit.

The chronology of events regarding Project Viper: 

  • On Aug. 20, TVA announced publicly its plans for a major transmission line upgrade from Hopewell to Georgetown needed to power a “new secure office complex.” The $26 million plan included cutting a new, mile-long right of way through private property. There was no explanation of what the “secure office complex” was. It was the last time TVA communicated with Georgetown citizens.

  • On Aug. 27, local media reported for the first time that TVA was moving its power control center and 175 employees out of downtown Chattanooga in what was a $300 million project.

  • On Aug. 30, TVA held a public meeting in Georgetown and more than 150 people attended when TVA officials said the agency expected no more than 30.

  • In September, TVA’s filed a permit with the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation to build a self-contained sewer plant on the site. The permit revealed that TVA had named initiative Project Viper and that the agency had been working on the project for two years.

  • Vital met with TVA officials twice to discuss the routes of the transmission line and access to the property without any substantive concessions from TVA.

  • On Nov. 20, TVA filed lawsuits against four property owners in four different Tennessee jurisdictions.

  • On Nov. 30, TVA requested and was granted immediate access to the property.