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Deal underway to preserve Dean Island from development

A 40-acre island in the Little Tennessee River will be protected from development if the owner can successfully hammer out an agreement with conservation groups.

“We’ve been in dialogue with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee and some other conservation organizations,” said James VanderWoude, a Franklin-based developer who owns the island. “We’re actively exploring conservation options.”

The talks come four months after word of a possible housing development on Dean Island in Macon County became public. The possibility of houses on the wooded tract - and the active start of bridge building to the island - sparked calls for preservation of the kidney-shaped island.

Work on the bridge came to a halt after various state and federal agencies were notified. The project, because it is in the Tennessee River System, falls under the review process of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority. The required permit had not been requested as of late last week, according to agency spokesperson Gil Francis.

Section 26a of the TVA Act requires that TVA approval be obtained before any construction activities are carried out that affect navigation, flood control, or public lands along the shoreline of TVA-managed reservoirs or in the Tennessee River or its tributaries, according to the TVA.

In addition to being located within the Tennessee River System, Dean Island is nestled among thousands of acres that already have been protected through various conservation efforts, including the 4,716-acre Needmore gamelands, now in the hands of the state Wildlife Resources Commission.

In addition, that stretch of the Little Tennessee River located just inside the Macon County line is home to three federally listed species, two mussels and a fish. A threatened rose-related plant called Virginia spiraea also has been identified both above and below the island.

“We are hoping to work something out,” said Paul Carlson, executive director of the Land Trust, adding that his group would be “very, very interested” in seeing Dean Island protected.

Earlier negotiations between VanderWoude and the Land Trust failed after the two parties failed to agree on a fair purchase price. Vanderwoude developed the Whistle Stop Mall on U.S. 441 outside of Franklin.

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