Tribune-Courier News Editor
KENTUCKY LAKE — A Kentucky Lake campground owner believes new Tennessee Valley Authority regulations may put him out of business.
Larry Hellkamp, owner of the Southern Komfort Resort, said requirements for guests to remove camping equipment like trailers and recreational vehicles for two weeks out of the year places a hardship on guests. While he does not permit year-round occupancy at his 140-lot park, many guests store their equipment through the year and renew from year-to-year. He owns a portion of the campground, while the TVA owns the lots below 375 feet of elevation, including his marina and restaurant.
Hellkamp added the TVA has quadrupled leasing costs for its portion of the campground. Since notification of the changes in policy in 2010, Hellkamp said his revenues have fallen by 60 percent. Once campers remove their equipment, they must either join a waiting list or participate in a lottery to return to campgrounds.
James Adams, senior manager for the TVA community and public recreation, said the new regulations are not designed to be adversarial to business operators. He said rate increases were designed to ensure all campground operators pay an equivalent amount through the Tennessee Valley. Prior to the increase, he described leasing costs as inconsistent through the valley.
“These are public lands, and we want to ensure all members of the public have equal access to public lands,” Adams said.
Hellkamp said many guests have maintained their campsites for several years. As most of his clientele are retirees, moving camping equipment for the mandated two-week period may be a physical or financial hardship. In the face of the move, some regular tenants are moving to other campgrounds.
After suffering damage in a series of storms, Hellkamp said he lost insurance coverage. He raised year-long lease rates to $2,200, the maximum he said guests will pay to camp. He added fee increases will not be supported by guests and he is forced to sustain the costs himself. To sustain his business, he has sold cottages and some of the lots in the park he owned.
“One camper has been here 34 years and is a widow,” Hellkamp said. “She’s 78-years-old, and there is no way she can take her little Honda, hook on a trailer and pull it anywhere.”
Adams said as public land, every citizen should enjoy equal access. He added all RV’s and trailers should be mobile and able to move. Adams described the two-week move an opportunity for campground operators to offer moving and storage services.
“Some people might say the two-week period is a hardship, but others have not been able to camp in these parks for years,” Adams said. “We’re saying they don’t need to get too attached to a campsite because they belong to everyone.”
Hellkamp said he has invested his money into the leased property. He has built individual campsites, providing hook-ups for electricity, potable water and sewage. He has until Sept. 30 to sign a new lease for the land with the TVA.
“The risk factor is ours,” Hellkamp said of himself and other campground operators in a similar situation. “We knew it going in. I’m just not going to let these people drive me into the ground without a fight.”
Adams said investment in infrastructure on leased land is made at the campground operators’ risk. The TVA maintains ownership of its land as public property. At this point, it has no plans to sell any lands to private parties aside from economic development and industrial causes.
Hellkamp said he is a part of the Shoreline Alliance and may attempt to seek an injunction against the TVA’s regulations in court.
“I won’t sign the lease unless my attorney tells me to sign it,” Hellkamp said.