Paul Allison speaks to fishermen opposed to the closure of the TVA fishing access and campground at the old John Sevier Steam Plant. Photo by Jeff Bobo.
ROGERSVILLE — It’s not a popular plan among area fishermen, but the John Sevier Campground and shoreline fishing access near Rogersville’s old steam plant will be closed to the public beginning sometime in September.
According to the Tennessee Valley Authority, access to the sluice and the dam at the recently shut down John Sevier Steam Plant, as well as the adjacent Holston River shoreline, will be closed to the public in September so that the plant’s ash dump site can be capped and permanently stabilized. Although the boat ramp will remain open, the adjacent John Sevier Campground will also be closed because it will be occupied by heavy equipment.
About two dozen fishermen showed up at the John Sevier Campground Tuesday afternoon hoping to participate in a meeting in which TVA officials were showing local political representatives what will be closed and why.
A public meeting wasn’t part of the TVA’s plan, however, and the two groups remained separated by about half a parking lot until the TVA representatives completed their business and eventually left.
It was a misunderstanding that left many of the fishermen upset because they thought they would be allowed to express their opposition to the facility access being closed.
After it became apparent that the TVA officials were not coming to the anglers, Paul Allison of Kingsport was the only member of the fishermen contingency to cross the parking lot and confront the TVA.
But first he got the fishermen fired up with strong words against the closing.
“They acquired TVA property from farmers and put it in public trust,” Allison told the fishermen. “That means it belongs to ‘we the people’. It ain’t them letting us use their land. It’s us letting them use our land. We need to speak up and not let the feds run roughshod over us.”
Allison added, “That’s too valuable a resource for us fishermen to lose, so we need to stand up. I fished it for over 30 years and I’m sure some of y’all fished it even longer. I’m sure you’d like to see your kids and grandkids get to fish it.”
Allison started a petition opposing the closure which he said already has about 500 signatures. He plans to continue gathering signatures until August.
TVA senior program manager Bert Robinson spoke with Allison and agreed to accept the petition when it is completed.
Allison told Robinson that the area of the Holston River around the old John Sevier Steam Plant is a valuable tourism draw for Rogersville and its closure will have a negative impact on the community in many ways.
“This is an iconic spot for the variety of fish, the species, the quantity and the quality,” Allison told Robinson. “... It’s famous, so we would surely appreciate whatever can be done so we can still park, walk back there, fish, and enjoy the great outdoors.”
The TVA group included Robinson; TVA vice president of security and safety management David Jolley; TVA public relations spokesman Travis Brickey; Congressman Phil Roe’s representative Bill Snodgrass; and State Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville.
Harrison did venture over and speak to the fishermen, although he admitted his presence there was simply to learn what was going on.
After the others in the TVA party had left, Brickey explained the TVA’s position to Allison, who in turn took the message back to the fishermen.
“We have about a four year construction project to close the ash site, which will require lots of heavy equipment that actually will come over into the campground area,” Brickey said. “We will close the fisherman parking lot up toward the old plant, and the pathway toward the discharge. There’s going to be a lot of heavy equipment moving back there. It would just be too risky. We don’t want anybody to get hurt.”
Brickey added, “Right now it’s going to be multiple years. It could be four years. We still have some decisions to make about what to do with the old building. Right now we’re focusing on capping the ash. We have to cap that. It’s an environmental requirement.”
Allison noted that a sign at the campground states it will be permanently closed. He said the TVA should give the public a “light at the end of the tunnel” as to when the fishing access and campground might be reopened.
“That’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get there,” Brickey told Allison.