Upon TVA staff recommendation and despite public outcry from homeowners and local governments, the TVA board of directors voted in May to place a 30-year sunset provision on all floating homes. Some 1,800 houseboats will be affected by the new policy, including more than 350 homes on Fontana Lake in Swain and Graham counties. Local governments will also be negatively impacted by the policy, citing a significant loss in property tax and sales tax revenue generated from floating homes and their owners who visit the area.
Even though floating homeowners can keep their homes for another 30 years, Meadows said just the announcement of the new TVA policy has diminished home values and rendered it impossible for people to sell their floating homes.
“The TVA’s proposal to ban floating cabins has already had devastating effects for hundreds of hard-working owners — even well before the 30-year timeline expires,” Meadows said in a press release. “This is yet another example of the federal government choosing to get involved without seriously evaluating the consequences placed upon tax-paying families. I call on my colleagues in the House to move swiftly on this bill and make a clear statement that this kind of government overreach will not be tolerated.”
Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, also introduced a Senate version of the bill.
Meadows said the bill was his last option after the TVA board made it clear during its August meeting that it would not reconsider the sunset provision. While the board and TVA staff argued that houseboats present environmental and safety issues and restrict public access on the TVA waters, Meadows said the TVA did not provide any proof of it in its Environmental Impact Study released last year.
Meadows’ proposed bill would allow for recreational access for floating homes on the Tennessee River System as long as the structure is maintained to reasonable health, safety and environmental standards as required by the TVA.
The bill would continue to allow the TVA to levy fees to the floating homeowners to ensure compliance as long as the fees are necessary and reasonable. The bill states that the TVA could not remove houseboats from its lakes if the homeowner has a TVA permit.
In 1978, the TVA prohibited the construction of any new houseboats, but the board grandfathered in the existing permitted structures. However, the TVA has admitted enforcement of that regulation has been lax. The lack of enforcement has led to many houseboats being constructed on the water without proper TVA permits.
Most houseboat owners who spoke at the TVA public hearings said they’re willing to get properly permitted, uphold more stringent environmental standards and pay reasonable fees, but pleaded with the board to rethink the sunset provision.
Since the sunset provision was approved in May, TVA staff has been meeting with floating homeowners to talk about ways to mitigate the economic impact the sunset clause will have on local communities. They also wanted feedback on the TVA’s future rules that will govern the houseboats on TVA lakes until they have to be removed in 30 years. Until the rules are established, no new houseboats can be constructed and no new permits will be granted. When TVA’s proposed rules are finalized, the public will have a 60-day comment period before the TVA votes on whether to adopt them. The new houseboat policy is now posted on the TVA website and any proposed rules will also be available online.
Houseboat owner to testify before congressional committee
Cherokee resident Laura Sneed, whose family owns two TVA-permitted houseboats on Fontana Lake, has been organizing the charge to get the TVA to reverse its 30-year sunset provision.
Sneed started a website and a Facebook group — Fontana Families for Floating Homes — that has more than 500 members. She also maintains the website for the Tennessee Valley Floating Homes Alliance and continues to lead an online fundraising effort for future legal fees that has generated about $22,000.
Fontana Families for Floating Houses was created during the public comment phase of the TVA’s Environmental Impact Study and provided a grassroots voice for communities and families affected by these measures. The group’s efforts to create an online petition returned over 3,700 signatures supporting the continued presence of floating homes structures on the lakes.
Sneed said she’s thankful for the continued support from Rep. Mark Meadows and Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis.
“From the onset of our fight against TVA’s sunset provision, Congressman Meadows took an interest in our plight. He wrote TVA’s CEO Bill Johnson multiple letters, met with floating homeowners and marina operators and also worked to engage the support of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. His continuing efforts have given me and everyone else on Fontana Lake genuine hope,” Sneed said.
Because of her commitment to the cause, Sneed will be one of five people invited to provide testimony before the Subcommittee on Government Operations of the United States House of Representative Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“I am honored to be called as a witness and am looking forward to going to Washington to testify on behalf of all floating homeowners and to discuss the impact the 30-year sunset will have on Western North Carolina,” Sneed said. “Our floating communities are irreplaceable, cherished by numerous families and worth fighting for.”
TVFHA President Michael Wilks of Ohio will also be providing testimony for the Congressional Committee.
Meadows, the chairman of the Congressional Subcommittee, requested Sneed’s testimony. The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 23, in room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building. It is open to the public and all floating homeowners are encouraged to attend.