You are hearing the “chink chinkâ€? of paddles being raised in a toast this evening.  The toast is in honor of the agreement reached by the Ocoee River Outfitters, the Ocoee Economic Development Group and the TVA to allow for recreational releases on the Upper Ocoee for the next thirteen years.   

This has been a long road traveled, beginning with the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when the whitewater course was constructed on the Upper Ocoee.  After the Olympics finished, the TVA shut the river down—much to everyone’s surprise. We all assumed (that is what happens!) that the investment made on the Upper Ocoee would signal a new era in water releases on the Ocoee. 

 

Only after the outfitters of the Ocoee River agreed to pay for the water released did the TVA agree to release water.  The TVA sees water released down the river as lost revenue—not as a natural resource to be enjoyed by all.  And because the TVA is not subject to FERC regulation, they do not have to go through a relicensing for their hydro projects (meaning they do not have to take recreation into consideration in their operating plan).

 

But when the cost of the energy skyrocketed, so did TVA’s assessment of the value of their water.  The outfitters could no longer afford to pay.  And the Upper Ocoee looked doomed again. Even the hard work of organizations like American Whitewater could not help bring an agreement.  In 2005, just when it looked like the Upper would be dry, a last minute procurement by Congressman Wamp of TN brought relief. 

 

But in March of 2006, the TVA walked away from the table and the contract they had agreed upon, meaning bad news for the future of this great section of river.   This is when the economic development group and the outfitters went back to work to try and find a solution.

 

It took lawyers, loans and a lot of time and energy to make this happen.  But today, May 11th, 2006, the outfitters signed a note personally guaranteeing a loan with the economic development group, who in turn worked with the TVA on the contract.

 

Similar to the arrangement on the Middle Ocoee, the Outfitters/outfitted public (meaning, commercial guests) is where the money will come from.  And a spin off is that the private boaters are able to enjoy the river for free.  There was a lot of hard work put into this by many groups since 1996 and it is a relief to know that it is a mission now accomplished.

 

Enjoy your next trip down the river!!