Tribune-Courier News Editor
FAIRDEALING – A coalition of campgrounds has filed suit against the Tennessee Valley Authority to fight regulations they say are hurting business.
According to a press release issued by the Shorline Alliance, the group filed suit on Dec. 7 in federal court in Jackson, Tenn. seeking an injunction to stop length-of-stay rules and a new fee structure.
Dan Norwood, attorney for the Shoreline Alliance, said the new regulations will destroy rest and recreation environments at privately-run campgrounds that lease land from the TVA.
Myra Fassett, manager of the Southern Komfort Campground, said her facility is a part of the Shoreline Alliance. Her campground submitted a modified lease for several lots owned by the TVA. They have not heard back if the TVA will approve the lease.
“Right now, we do not have many campers because the new regulations are driving people away. They’re interfering with the environment and life at the campground,” Fassett said.
TVA regulations now require camping equipment to be removed from lots for at least two weeks per year. Rates have also gone up for leased land. Fassett said she looks at the rates as illegal taxation from an entity without taxing authority. She added the removal of equipment like RV’s and campers may be difficult for older residents. Long time campers renew leases every year. Now they must leave for the two-week period.
Fassett said several guests renew annually and prefer to keep their equipment on-site because they keep homes elsewhere. They return seasonally for vacations and find it convenient to keep the equipment in place. Several older residents are unable to move equipment or have smaller cars unable to move their trailers. Once gone from their sites, guests must go through a lottery system to go to a different camp site than the one before.
Southern Komfort has seen its business drop by 50 percent and expects to lose $175,000 in revenue by the year’s end, Fassett said.
“The people that have have left are gone for good,” Fassett said.
Mike Bradley, TVA spokesman, said new length-of-stay requirements are designed to promote equal access to public land.
“The requirements were put into place to verify campsites meant for short-term stays are not being used as permanent residences or being reserved year-upon-year exclusively for select individuals,” Bradley said. “Each public camping space should be equally accessible to anyone interested in staying at the campground.”
Fassett said the policy demonstrates ignorance of the way campgrounds operate. She added Southern Komfort has never been forced to turn away business.
“We’re well off the beaten path,” Fassett said. “We don’t have transient campers at our park like you would at a KOA. People want to leave their equipment in the park so they can come down to fish in the winter, or take a vacation in the summer.”
Bradley said the new fees for lease were adopted in 2010. This marked the first across-the-board increase to all lessees since 1999. The move was made to standardize rates for all TVA-owned property. He called the old fee structure inconsistent and inadequate.
“This is not a tax, as TVA cannot levy taxes,” Bradley said. “This also is not an undue burden on operators, as most every business either pays rent or purchases the space on which it operates. Many TVA commercial operators have enjoyed rents that are below fair market rates.”
Eddie Davenport, owner of Fast Eddie’s Fairdealing Market, said campgrounds are not the only businesses suffering. He estimated about 50 percent of his business came from guests staying there. With the winter dropoff, Davenport is waiting until spring to determine the effect of a drop in campground business.
“I think it’s going to affect everyone in the area,” Davenport said. “There are five campgrounds nearby and if people are not staying there, they won’t come to me. It doesn’t look good for the area.”
Davenport said campgrounds and guests were the main businesses driving the Fairdealing economy. When guests move away, businesses in the community lose revenue. He opened his new location in 2009.
“The TVA needs to leave campgrounds well alone and let them enjoy what they do,” Davenport said. “If they go messing with the areas campgrounds, they could put me out of business.”