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By DAMON LAWRENCE
TVA is following through with its plan to buy up property in the ash spill area.
Through Tuesday of this week, the utility company had purchased 19 pieces of property, according to the Roane County Property Assessor's Office.
What's being paid for those properties is a mystery. TVA is having the sellers sign confidentiality agreements.
“That's the legal protocol that we're following,” TVA spokesman Gil Francis said.
Warranty deeds have a section to list the amount paid, but the properties sold to TVA don't include a figure on that line, just the words “tax exempt.” Property Assessor Teresa Kirkham said TVA is a tax-exempt organization and isn't required to list a purchase price.
“Those people are getting a lot more than just what their property is worth,” Kirkham said. “They're getting damages and compensation for inconvenience and so on.”
Garvin Morris, a chief deputy with the Roane County Sheriff's Office, is one of the property owners who has sold to TVA. County records show the property had an appraised value of $232,400. Less than two weeks after selling to TVA, Morris bought property in East Roane County for $535,000.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the disaster that occurred at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant on Dec. 22, 2008, released an estimated 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers and surrounding areas. Since then, TVA has been upfront about its willingness to buyout property owners in the spill area.
Francis said the transactions are between TVA and the sellers, and TVA has no plans to make the settlement amounts public.
Kirkham said there's a reason behind the secrecy.
“I think it's part of the negotiation process of TVA,” she said. “They don't want one property owner to come in here and say, 'Well, you paid this for this property. Now I want this for mine, or mine is worth more.'”
The appraised value of the 19 properties TVA has bought so far is almost $2.5 million. Because of its tax-exempt status, TVA is not required to pay Roane County property taxes on the land.
“When TVA buys, they come off the rolls, and the county loses that amount of money they were getting from those parcels,” Kirkham said.
The properties bought by TVA to date will mean a loss of $16,384 from the county tax rolls, she added.