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Fontana houseboat owner seeks TVA appointment

Fontana houseboat owner seeks TVA appointment

After a successful campaign to keep houseboats on Fontana Lake, floating homeowner Erik Sneed is now campaigning for a presidential appointment to the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors.

Erik and his wife Laura Sneed of Cherokee led the fight last year against the TVA board’s policy decision to have all 1,900 floating homes removed from TVA’s lakes within 30 years, including 350-plus homes on Fontana. 

The Sneeds’ grassroots effort to organize all the floating homeowners and get the TVA’s new policy overturned was a long shot, but proved successful with the help of congressional intervention. 

With the support of U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-Asheville, and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-Winston-Salem, the houseboat owners were able to prevail. Meadows and Burr introduced an amendment to a larger piece of legislation — the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA) — to allow existing floating homes to stay on TVA lakes while still prohibiting the construction of new structures. The bill made it through Congress and President Obama signed it into law in late December.

“Our work with TVA on the floating homes issue expanded my knowledge greatly as to the impact that organization has on Western North Carolina,” Sneed said. “I feel like I can be a champion for common sense regulations within TVA and continue the positive evolution of that organization.”

Sneed came before the Swain County Board of Commissioners last week to ask the board to send a letter of support to President Donald Trump’s transition team for his appointment to the TVA board. 

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The TVA is a federal corporation established by legislation in 1933 with the purpose of providing flood control, creating jobs and economic development opportunities and offering affordable electricity to businesses and residents. TVA board members are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and each serves a term of five years. The board is currently made up of members from Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi, but none of them reside in North Carolina.

“We had an interesting year and a half working with the federal government and the TVA trying to save floating houses,” Sneed told commissioners. “Now there’s an opportunity to get someone on that board from North Carolina. In the history of the TVA, there’s not been a rep from North Carolina.”

Swain commissioners have long felt the TVA has neglected its duties to the North Carolina communities where it draws water from lakes like Fontana. Commission Chairman Phillip Carson said it seems the TVA forgets that the water it uses to produce electricity comes from North Carolina. 

Sneed said the board appointment will be a highly sought-after position, but with all the regional support he’s received, he could have a good shot. He has a formal recommendation from Rep. Meadows and received letters of support from Patrick Lambert, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Chief Lambert, the Graham County Revitalization Economic Action Team and he’s working to get similar letters from Gov. Roy Cooper and Larry Kernea from the Murphy Electric Power Board. 

“With the momentum and success we’ve had this year, we’ve gotten to know a lot of people with the TVA — we’ve got the respect of a lot of folks in the organization,” Sneed said. “But the board members don’t care for us now because we showed them up.”

While the fight to keep their lake property is over, Sneed said the TVA staff is still in the process of creating new regulations for floating houses and he hopes to be able to have an influence on what new regulations the board passes. He also wants to make sure Western North Carolina has a voice at the table. 

“I hundred percent support you being on that board because you will stand up for Swain and Graham counties,” said Commissioner David Monteith. 

The board unanimously approved sending a letter of support to The White House for Sneed’s appointment to the TVA board. The appointment will probably be made in April or May. 

Sneed was born and raised in WNC. He and his children are enrolled members of the EBCI and Sneed serves as the director of finance for the tribe. 

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