Success on the Upper Ocoee is Official!
Friday, September 26th, 2003, a historic event was held on the Upper Ocoee to formalize a recent agreement that will bring 54 days of recreational releases each year for the next 15 years to the Upper Ocoee River in Southeastern Tennessee. Congressman Zach Wamp, TVA Director Bill Baxter, and other key stakeholders stood on the Ocoee Olympic Whitewater Center bridge and signed a document that promised the water would be delivered in the spring of 2004.
This event marked a landmark in American Whitewater’s work on the Upper Ocoee River that has been ongoing for the past 8 years. The Upper Ocoee has made our Top River Issues list a number of times and has drawn the time and efforts of many AW volunteers, staff, and board members. Our advocacy efforts have been ceaseless and strong over these past 8 years. Just in the past two and a half years American Whitewater completed the following advocacy steps on the Upper Ocoee:
· May 2001: AW Organized and hosted the Ocoee Symposium,
a stakeholder meeting that brought together outfitters, private boaters, the USFS, State
Agencies, and regional economic development interests to discuss strategies for achieving the 54
days of recreational releases that a 1997 Environmental Impact Statement recommended.
· Summer 2001 - Fall 2001: AW attended and presented Upper Ocoee proposals at several meetings of a TVA steering committee called the Regional Resource Stewardship Council (RRSC). We also presented the RRSC with a letter supporting releases on the Upper Ocoee that was hand-signed by dozens of regional business owners.
· September 2001: AW hosted another stakeholder meeting that brought regional interests together with members of the RRSC. The result was the RRSC formally recommending that the TVA use its Reservoir Operation Study (ROS) to analyze the Upper Ocoee situation and resolve the disputes over the river.
· March 2002: With the ROS in full swing AW filed detailed comments and used the web site and journal to encourage public comment from the paddling community.
· Summer 2002: American Whitewater is invited to join a TVA advisory group called that Public Review Group that assists with the ROS. AW has attended monthly meetings of the Public Review Group for the last year. Even with our participation, and against the recommendation of the RRSC, TVA unilaterally decided to remove the Upper Ocoee issue from the ROS in September of 2002. Our involvement with the Public Review Group ultimately will secure recreational enhancements on other rivers.
· Fall 2002: Hosted the Teva National Freestyle Championships on the Upper Ocoee and used the event to generate over 1000 hand signed letters to the TVA Board requesting releases on the Upper Ocoee and criticizing the TVA decision to remove the Ocoee from the ROS. The event and our message received major television and newspaper coverage.
· Winter -Summer 2003: Capitalizing on the momentum of the Teva Nationals, AW worked through the Public Review Group and through appeals to congressional representatives to encourage TVA to consider the Upper Ocoee an economic development issue and to restore water to the river. AW, Ocoee Outfitters, and other regional interests were successful in having TVA consider the Upper Ocoee an economic development issue and a new stakeholder group called the Kitchen Cabinet was formed to seek to resolve the issue. TVA’s economic development program reconsidered the cost of releases and the price drops by roughly two thirds.
· Fall 2003: The lower price of releases makes them economically viable for the outfitters to purchase and ideas crystallize that integrate the Upper and Middle Ocoee into a regional economic development movement. Multiple funding possibilities are discovered and presented and the Kitchen Cabinet moves forward with an agreement. TVA and the outfitters worked closely together on the financial details and the agreement was signed by the head of the Outfitters Association, the Director of TVA, and Congressman Zach Wamp on September 26th.
American Whitewater is proud of our role in this dynamic and complex river advocacy story. While TVA is still demanding full cost recovery for releases, they came a long way in the negotiations and ultimately the decisions that they made will allow water to flow again in the Upper Ocoee. We would like to commend TVA for coming to the table and for making some very difficult decisions. We would also like to thank Carlo Smith and Larry Mashburn who both did a valiant job of representing the outfitters in the many processes that eventually lead to the success that we are now celebrating. Congressman Wamp also deserves a great deal of appreciation from the paddling community for his strong support of the Upper Ocoee.
We would especially like to thank the paddling community for generating thousands of letters and comments over the past few years, and for supporting American Whitewater through being members and through donations. We are a membership driven organization and could not have managed to win the Ocoee without your continuous support.
If you are not already a member, please consider joining AW and help us continue to restore recreational opportunities like the Upper Ocoee!
We hope to see you out there enjoying the Upper Ocoee as much as possible over the next 15 years. When that time is up we will come back to the table with TVA and integrate the Upper and Middle Ocoee into a new agreement that will hopefully be even better than before.