Ocoee River management accord is focus of Monday meeting

By BRIAN GRAVES

Posted 12/10/17

The public is invited to attend an open house Monday, Dec. 11, to learn about the proposed partnership agreement between TVA, the U.S. Forest Service and the state of Tennessee to manage recreation …

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Ocoee River management accord is focus of Monday meeting

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The public is invited to attend an open house Monday, Dec. 11, to learn about the proposed partnership agreement between TVA, the U.S. Forest Service and the state of Tennessee to manage recreation along the Ocoee River.

TVA is hosting the event from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Cleveland State Community College's George R. Johnson Cultural Heritage Center. It will provide the chance to learn more about the agreement and the related environmental analysis and to provide input.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill in June which creates the Ocoee River Recreation and Economic Development Fund Act, to support recreational water releases on the Ocoee River, management by the Tennessee State Parks and encouragement of economic growth around the river.

The bill, sponsored by local state legislators —  Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown) and state Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) —  established a partnership between the Ocoee River Outfitters Association, the state, the U.S. Forest Service and TVA. They were supported by their colleagues state Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland) and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga).

TVA will receive $11.8 million over the next 20 years to compensate for revenues lost when the river runs free to allow for whitewater rafting activities.

"This legislation is a great win for Polk County, the state of Tennessee and visitors from all over the world," Bell said at the bill's signing. "We are open for business, and will continue to be for many more years to come as a result of this new law."

"The Ocoee River is a huge asset to Tennessee and just a great place to visit," Howell said. "This new law will ensure that Southeast Tennessee continues to benefit from the recreational use of the river in the future."

The Cleveland State event comes days after TVA releases a draft environmental assessment on the proposed agreement.

Under the proposed agreement, TVA would provide water releases from Ocoee Dam No. 2 and No. 3 for a term of 15 years on the middle and upper sections of the Ocoee River beginning in 2019 on a schedule similar to the current water release agreements.

TVA will also grant recreation easements to the state, and the U.S. Forest Service would continue to make tracts open to the state to improve recreational river access.

The state would be responsible for permitting, oversight of commercial rafting, emergency response, law enforcement, traffic management and other tasks along the river.

The preliminary environmental impact of the agreement shows minor to no impact on the Ocoee River area.

That assessment is available for viewing at www.tva.com/nepa. The public can comment on that document until Jan. 5.

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