Congressional Hearing
on the Future of
Land Between the Lakes

A Congressional Hearing on the future of the Land Between the Lakes (LBL) and Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) altered management plan was held June 21, 1997 in the Lovett Auditorium on the Murray State University campus in western Kentucky.

The outcome of this hearing will have national significance and is being watched closely by all those concerned with the future of our public lands. At stake is the method of funding the maintenance and operation of public lands, and thus the uses (and abuses) of those lands.

Logging and mining on public lands has been controversial in the past. What is at stake here goes well beyond this!

The Concept Zero Task Force was very pleased with the tone of the hearing. The four hour hearing began with a prolonged and sharp chastisement of TVA Director William Kennoy by the Congressional panel. In particular the Congressmen wanted to know how TVA could claim to have the best interest of the LBL at heart while proposing to "zero out" all funding for the LBL and their other "non-power" programs. Unfortunately, this was focused more at the larger issue of the future of TVA as a quasi-governmental agency than at the management of LBL.

LBL management was represented by the Land Between the Lakes Association (LBLA)-- which was founded and funded by the LBL management to perform those functions a government agency is not allowed to do. Their claim is that preservation is detrimental to the recreation purpose of the LBL. This despite the original intent of LBL being a research and demonstration facility on the impact of human activity on the environment and how to best balance the two functions.

The LBLA testimony clearly reflected the altered (lost?) vision of the LBL, as the speakers repeatedly referred to visitors to the 170,000 acre woodland as "customers." With this mindset in place it was clear that they felt it not only their right, but obligation, to provide the commercial "services" that a visitor to the region would want.

Concept Zero representatives and former residents from between the rivers countered these claims with facts and documents. The federal government had already used its power of eminent domain three times between the rivers: forming a large wildlife refuge, Kentucky Lake, then Barkley Lake. The fourth round of eminent domain, which finally removed ALL residents, resulted in the ultimatum that all houses, businesses and even churches be removed or bulldozed and burned. In response to class action suits by the residents claiming the government did not have the right to destroy generations-old communities for the sake of a recreation area, the sixth circuit court of appeals had ruled in 1972 that TVA DID have that right, but only because of the demonstration mandate of the TVA's original mission statement.

TVA Chairman Aubrey Wagnor had argued before a skeptical congress that TVA was going to demonstrate how removing all commercial activity within a public land would result in stimulated economic development of the surrounding region. In order to perform the demonstration all "inholdings" (the residents, their farms, homes, businesses and churches) would have to be removed. The appellate court had ruled that it was this narrow demonstration which gave TVA the right to use eminent domain a final time on these people.

The LBL was established, at great cost to those who had called it home for 200 years, to create a place which would remain free of otherwise inevitable commercial development, thus creating a unique resource which would provide opportunities unavailable anywhere else in the region. In so doing the economy of the surrounding region would be enhanced. The altered (lost?) vision of providing for the visitor's (or "customers"?) needs within the LBL and thus abandoning the pretense of "preservation" is a direct violation of the purposes for which the LBL was established. It abandons the motive for forcibly removing the residents; it abandons the mission of creating a place that, by removing the impacts of civilization on the natural environment, would become ever more unique; it abandons the demonstration of enhancing the surrounding economy by now directly competing with the very businesses that LBL was supposed to support!

Some testimony in support of commercialization of the public land claimed that the non-development mission of the LBL was merely the passing remark of a short-term TVA Chairman. This is easily countered by the ample documentation of:

Congressman Whitfield, of Western Kentucky, concluded the hearing with the statement that "statutory authority" over the LBL was needed. A congressional statute mandating the purpose of the LBL--or other TVA properties acquired by eminent domain--was never put in place. (This is how TVA has been able to sell property in Tennessee in the last year.) Without such statutory control, Whitfield stressed, congress has no say over what TVA does in the LBL.

The Concept Zero Task Force believes this situation must change and will continue to work towards this goal.

Every effort has been taken to ensure that our report on the hearing, and all our statements made there, are not only accurate, but documented. If there are any questions about any of this content, or if you would merely like more information, please contact the Concept Zero Task Force.

Transcripts from the Hearing are now beginning to be mounted on the Congressional website. They began with written testimony submitted on diskette, and have begun scanning submitted hardcopies. The transcripts of oral testimonies and late submissions of written documents should be forthcoming. We encourage everyone to look these over.

As we see it, this is an issue about whether public lands should be turned into businesses competing with the private sector, or managed as a resource to benefit us all. Should the tax payer be a "customer" or a "visitor" to a resource they own?

UPDATE--1/98: As the process of getting proposed enabling legislation for the LBL before Congress continues, we anticipate another Congressional Hearing. This one will likely occur in Washington, D.C. Stay Tuned!

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