Swain commissioners retool strategy in fight over Fontana dam paymentsWritten by Colby Dunn
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Swain County commissioners have taken back a request made to the General Assembly in February, in hopes of bolstering their lawsuit against neighboring Graham County over payments on the Fontana Dam.
Both counties get payments from the Tennessee Valley Authority in lieu of property taxes for the bits of the dam and hydropower generators that are in their respective counties. They have been locked in battle recently over how much each is entitled to.
Last fall, the N.C. Department of Revenue said the payments were being calculated wrong, and that Graham was entitled to a larger chunk of the funds. Swain lost more than $200,000 a year under the new formula for TVA payments.
Graham proceeded to file suit against Swain, looking to recoup 60-plus years in back TVA revenue that was misapplied to Swain under the old formula.
So Swain fired back, filing a countersuit and sending a resolution to Raleigh asking for a change in the way payments are calculated.
The payments were once split equally. The new formula gives a greater share to Graham, since more of the dam and generators lie on Graham’s side of the county line.
Swain proposed yet another new formula based on how much property each county lost when the lake was created in the 1940s.
That would bring a lot more revenue to the Swain side, because, according to County Manager Kevin King, Graham only gave 19,000 acres as opposed Swain’s 55,000 back when the lake and dam were built.
But, said King, the measure never got out of committee in the House of Representatives, stymied at every turn by Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, who represents Graham.
King said the county still stands behind the idea.
“Any time you have a county that’s suffered, that the TVA has taken 55,000 acres away from and the other county only got 19,000 taken, any county would say that’s wrong [to be compensated less],” said King.
But Kim Lay, Swain County’s attorney, apparently told commissioners in a 15-minute closed session to discuss the litigation that rescinding the request for legislation, since it died in committee anyway, would be better for Swain when it comes to the legal suit.
The legal claim is still in the discovery phase, and King said he expects movement on the issue over the next few months.