Tennessee lawmakers are chiming in on the fight over homes that float on TVA lakes. The state senate has already passed a resolution opposing a plan by TVA to phase out all floating houses within 20 years. A similar resolution is making its way through the house.
While the resolutions may make waves in terms of publicity and public opinion, the state has no actual authority over TVA's decision on whether floating homes should stay or go.
"Everybody's comments are important. But we're a federal agency, so we're not bound by state resolutions," said TVA spokesperson Scott Brooks. "Obviously, we're dealing with a very sensitive issue that affects people who have made investments in these homes. We have to weigh that with the investment TVA has made in our public waterways. All of these reservoirs are public property."
Floating homes are not the same as house boats. To make a land-based analogy, house boats are analogous to RVs while floating houses are akin to mobile homes. Floating homes are floating structures unable to drive on their own.
TVA says there are roughly 1,800 floating homes on its lakes and there are concerns about safety and the environment.
"Safety could be electrical issues or building code issues. Environmental issues include wastewater and sewage," said Brooks.
Owners of the aquatic abodes say they want to work with TVA to find a solution that is not all-or-nothing.
"I think 90 percent of floating home owners are folks that are doing the right things. We swim and get together with our families here. We want to make sure the lake is as clean as possible," said Tyson McGhee, who has owned a floating home at Waterside Marina in Norris Lake for seven years. "We need to come to a resolution on the sunset piece because that would impact floating home owners the most. At the end of the day, TVA can do what they want to do. It would be very sad to see this go. We would hate to see that happen."
McGhee said he would like to find a way to regulate floating homes without forcing all existing owners to remove the homes in a couple of decades.
"There are homes that have been out here since the 1960s and 1970s. We are only occupying such a small portion of this lake and we are located directly beside marinas. If the floating homes are not here, they could just extend the docks from the marinas into the same space and you'd have an identical impact on the environment and safety. The economic impact on the marinas and tourism would be very big," said McGhee.
Supporters of TVA's proposal have pointed out floating homes allow owners to have property that is literally on the lake without having to pay property taxes.
McGhee said the floating homes are just a few dozen yards from existing boat docks and owners pay rent to keep the homes anchored.
"We rent this space just like anybody else in a marina. We're paying thousands of dollars. In the months that we don't use our floating homes, we still pay. So there's a year-round economic benefit to marinas," said McGhee.
"You're talking about public property, just like you'd be talking about a national park or a state park. These are folks who have built on public property and we can't just not address that issue," said Brooks.
TVA could vote on the floating home issue as early as its quarterly meeting May 5 in Buchanan, Tennessee. The agenda for that meeting has not been published. If the board decides to include floating homes on its agenda, the public can reserve time to speak at the meeting by going to TVA's website.