TVA customers rank environmental protection No. 1 concern

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   A telephone survey conducted by a Portland, Ore., research firm has concluded that Tennessee Valley Authority customers in the seven state region served by TVA believe environmental protection and electricity production should be the agency's highest priorities.
   The study, paid for by TVA and done by Davis, Hibbits & McCaig, which specializes in natural resource and energy issues, surveyed 3,600 citizens, or about 1 percent of the more than 3 million households TVA serves in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.
   Survey results will serve as guidance for TVA as it continues its two-year Reservoir Operations Study, "a comprehensive look at how TVA manages the Tennessee River system and its reservoirs," according to the agency. Carter County's Watauga Lake and Watauga River form the headwaters of the Tennessee River system.
   Barbara Martocci of TVA media relations, said the telephone survey "will be used as part of the information that will help us determine what the issues are that the public has and what they value."
   TVA completed a series of public meetings in April and now is looking at finalizing a scoping document which the agency hopes to release soon "that will let everyone know what the public saw as the issues, what they liked and didn't like about how we operate the system, and what they value about the system," Martocci said.
   "The scoping document just defines what the scope of the issues are that TVA will look at to help us determine what the alternatives are in an Environmental Impact Statement. Once we develop the alternatives we will issue a draft Environmental Impact Statement and then the public will comment on that," Martocci said.
   Analyses will be performed to determine "what benefits are provided by having reservoirs up longer or by fluctuating them, and by ensuring that water stays healthy," she said.
   According to a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation draft study of the state's reservoir and stream quality, many of TVA's reservoirs are contaminated with PCBs and chlordane. However, according to Martocci, that is not a factor in conducting the study.
   "One of the reasons for doing the study is to determine if we can provide greater overall value to the public."
   TVA customers were selected at random and were asked in the telephone survey about their quality of life, TVA's management of the river system, and their priorities for how water in the Tennessee River and its tributaries should be allocated to provide such benefits as flood control, navigation, electricity, water quality, economic growth, water supply, recreation and land use.
   Of those responding, 32 percent ranked protecting the natural environment as the highest priority for TVA's operation of the river system; 28 percent said electricity production should be the top priority; water supply and flood control ranked 17 percent and 13 percent, respectively; and recreation and navigation came in at 5 percent and 2 percent.
   Hopkinsville (Ky.) Electric System General Manager Austin Carroll, an adviser to the study's project manager, said, "The people in the region who have a vested interest in wanting to change or keep the current balance of TVA's reservoir operations are already in communication with TVA. It's important to understand the priorities of the silent majority so TVA's obligations to the greater population are fully understood by decision-makers."
   Dr. Vicky Langston of Austin Peay State University, also an adviser to the study, said, "Those who don't get involved with TVA issues need a voice in the Reservoir Operations Study. A scientific survey is an excellent way to understand how TVA impacts the general public."