In what is being called a "test case" for the funding of all public lands,
the relatively unknown (though locally much beloved) Land Between the Lakes (LBL)
was the subject of a Congressional hearing June 21, 1997. The hearing
was the result of the public outcry that arose following Tennessee Valley
Authority's (TVA) proposal to run the LBL as a commercial operation, thus
providing increased revenues.
This offer will be difficult for a cost-cutting Congress
to turn down--especially when so many large development interests are becoming
involved. In recent months TVA has established legal precedent by leasing,
and even selling outright, land acquired by eminent domain in Tennessee. In
spite of official claims of abandoning plans for commercial development, construction
of commercial facilities within the LBL has dramatically increased. The
possibility of our public lands being operated in exchange for whatever profits
they can generate (from commercial logging, hotels, golf courses, theme parks,
land sales, condos, etc.) is not a model many would like to see on a national scale.
As one LBL official put it, "This is about how much the public will accept."
The fate of the Land Between the Lakes, hidden away in far western Kentucky
and Tennessee, will have strong implications for all Americans.
BACKGROUND--Impoundments of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers resulted
in what is now a unique 170,000 acre peninsula called Land Between the Lakes.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy authorized the Tennessee Valley Authority
to block in the federal holdings already there (a large wildlife refuge and
the two reservoirs) and establish a National Recreation
Area. The mission statement emphasized outdoor recreation, environmental education,
and stimulating development of the surrounding region. The local
protests regarding the use of eminent domain were met with repeated assurances
CURRENT EVENTS--The chief incidant to the current controversies
concerning the future of LBL is a publication: What is the Shape of Our
Future?--Preliminary Concepts for a Public Use Plan. You can see
why we refer to this unusually attractive, large (11"X17") and expensive
document as "the concepts" of which there are five. Despite recent commitments
of an extensive area of LBL to the International Biosphere Reserve program, and
the assurances mentioned above, it seems clear to us the intent of the five
concepts is to set the stage for increased economic developments within
LBL. The ostensible reason for this mission leap is "to operate with earned
revenue supplying 80% of the budget by the year 2000." There is no
mandate for such action; it is in direct conflict with the mission statement,
and is yet another broken promise to the families forced to leave their homes
when LBL began.
In a region known for somewhat strange coalitions (such as bootleggers and
the Baptists), it was not surprising that people with quite different backgrounds
and agendas have spontaneously coalesced to assure more responsible and
enlightened management of their land. The chief (and sometimes
overlapping) issues in the current controversy are:
CONCEPT ZERO--So, the strange bedfellows have formed a Concept Zero
Task Force. The title suggests that LBL's five concepts go in the wrong
direction, and indicates our dedication to insuring that TVA/LBL demonstrate
more informed and insightful leadership by focusing on ways to fulfill their
original, and vital, mission in an environmentally sensitive, and economically
rational manner. As guideposts to assessing movement in this direction, the
Task Force offers these goals: no leasing of public land to private individuals
for their exclusive use and benefit; less not more commercailization
within LBL; scaling down the number of administrators (and the remuneration
of some) to be more nearly commensurate with the task at hand and the
wage scale in the surrounding region; establishing a blue ribbon board to set
policies; and a modest, but ample, budget to fulfill the original mission
in a manner which is fiscally and environmentally responsible--and sustainable.
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