ATHENS, Tenn. -- TVA sold the shores of Tellico Lake to a development agency Friday despite protests from white-haired Nellie McCall and angry farmers who battled to buy back property the agency took three years ago.
The former landowners demanded to buy back the land because TVA had failed to deliver a 'Garden of Eden' of industrial development promised when the federal utility built the $137-million Tellico Dam.
'This is highway robbery. It's a land grab,' said the fiesty 78-year-old Mrs. McCall, who was escorted off her 90-acre farm by federal marshals.
But TVA allowed only one bid in the meeting billed as a public auction and sold nearly 11,000 acres of property to the Tellico Reservoir Development Agency for $13.8 million.
'I hope that with the land grab that has taken place here today that you all will sleep well tonight,' said a teary-eyed Margaret Sexton, Mrs. McCall's daughter.
TVA bought the land in the 1960s and 1970s for $4.7 million through its powers of emminent domain.
TVA attorney Leonard Steele said the agency would place the profits in the federal treasury or use them to fund agency economic development or fertilizer programs.
No money exchanged hands at the meeting in a tiny conference room at TVA's Athens' office. The development agency, made up of officials from Blount, Loudon and Monroe counties, agreed to pay TVA half the sale price of the land if development takes place.
'What we did today will satisfy legal requirements for transferring the land,' TVA spokesman Don Bagwell said.
The landowners did not bid on their old property because TVA officials said they probably did not qualify. The agency required the land to be sold in one piece to make development easier, officials said.
The meeting was advertised on short notice this week in local newspapers. Steele said public notices would have gone out sooner except there had been some 'internal problems.' He denied the meeting was held the day after Thanksgiving to discourage local opposition.
'I think we had a public sale here today,' Bagwell said. The landowners scoffed in defiance.
'Public sale? We didn't have no say-so,' Mrs. McCall said.
TVA bought 22,000 acres for the Tellico Dam and pushed 340 farmers off their land to do it.
Environmentalists fought TVA to the Supreme Court. They argued the dam would kill the rare Snail Darter, a four-inch fish that thrived in the Little Tennessee River Valley.
But Congress, led by Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., and Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., pushed through legislation that exempted the Snail Darter from the Endangered Species Act.
The floodgates on the Tellico Dam were closed three years ago, but TVA has failed to attract industries. The TVA board agreed to sign over half the land to the development agency Aug. 25.
'With the help of gutless, whimpy representatives in our federal government, our land was taken illegally and shuffled from one level of government to another, making up the rules as they went along,' said Jean Ritchey, who lost her farm to TVA.
Charlotte Hughes said TVA forced her family off their 300-acre farm and the lake covered only a third of her property.
'They were telling us we would have a Garden of Eden here because TVA was going to help all the people and provide all the jobs,' Mrs. Hughes said.
Bagwell blamed the lack of development on the national recession.