Swain officials discuss houseboats with TVA

Members of the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors recently requested a meeting with Swain and Graham County officials to discuss the TVA’s recent decision to remove all 1,800 houseboats from its 49 lakes within the next 30 years.

The meeting was called at the request of U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-Cashiers, who has been trying to convince the TVA to reverse its ruling or exempt the 350 houseboat owners on Fontana Lake from the new policy.  

Meadows, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis all sent aides to the meeting to join David Monteith, chairman of the Fontana Lake Waste Recovery board, Graham County Commission chairman, Swain County Commission Chairman Phil Carson and Swain County Manager Kevin King for the meeting. 

As part of its ruling back in May, TVA promised to work closely with each lake community to ensure the economic impact of removing the houses is minimal. Swain and Graham will be impacted more than other communities in TVA’s jurisdiction since a majority of both counties’ land is owned by the federal government. Fontana recreation is a major part of the local tourism economy.  

Like many residents who have deep roots in Swain County, Monteith sees the TVA decision as just one more thing the federal government has taken away from the people. Swain and Graham lost many of its assets when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created and when land was flooded to create Fontana Lake.

“My opinion that I told the TVA board was that TVA has taken enough from Swain County — over 7,000 acres and over 4,000 acres from Graham County,” Monteith said. “Swain and Graham counties lost over 3,000 citizens and over 300 homes, businesses, schools and churches for Fontana Lake, also hundreds of jobs. Enough is enough.”  

If the houseboats are removed, he said, Swain and Graham counties would lose tax money from houseboats and the revenue from lake users.  

Even though the TVA’s mission includes providing affordable electricity and flood control to the communities it serves, Monteith pointed out that Swain County does not receive those services while people in Tennessee do. 

TVA cited improper disposal of sewage from houseboats as one reason they needed to be permanently removed from the lakes, but Swain County officials and Meadows say that’s a false claim when it comes to Fontana Lake, and they have the water quality results to back it up. 

Monteith and the Fontana Lake Waste Recovery Board were responsible for writing an ordinance years ago that requires all houseboats to have a restroom and that every boat dock has a pump-out boat to pump out the waste from all houseboats.  

While this meeting was not open to the public, Monteith said he suggested to TVA board members that they hold public meetings in Swain and Graham counties to hear concerns from people. 

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