- June 8, 2020
Constructionof Tellico Dam occurred between the year 1967 and 1978 in Loudon,Tennessee. The project was undertaken by the Tennessee ValleyAuthority and all the funding for the Tellico Dam came from thefederal government. Tellico Dam lies across the Little TennesseeRiver, which begins at the hilltops of Georgia and terminates whereit converges with the Big Tennessee River. The Tellico project aimedat exploiting the river’s resources by converting it into a waterreservoir with a length of about 33 miles and a capacity of 120,000acre-feet. The dam was constructed by the placement of concreteblocks across Little Tennessee River, which were then sealed up withmore concrete. Mainly, the reservoir was initiated as a way ofcontrolling floods, generating hydroelectricity (at Fort LoudonReservoir), creating employment, promoting housing, and supportingrecreational activities.
Theproblems that threatened to halt the construction of Tellico Damemerged even before the project had begun since it affected manypeople living within the vicinity of the river who relied on it andthe surrounding area for their work or livelihood. They includedfarmers, historians, fishers and archaeologists. They were the firstpeople to have a conflict with Tennessee Valley Authority’sproject. Moreover, in 1973, the snail darter fish was discovered inLittle Tennessee. Four months later, the Endangered Species Act of1973 was passed by Congress. Further on in 1975, the US InteriorSecretary added the snail darter fish to the list of animals thatwere endangered and stated that they were at risk of extinctionbecause of the Tellico Dam construction. Also, the EnvironmentalDefense Fund had cited the lack of a thorough environmental impactassessment as a primary concern for the project (Cannon, 2015).
Thefirst opponents of the project had tried to use congressionalhearings to push their agenda to no avail because the politicalsupport for the project was overwhelming. As such, they turned to theEnvironmental Defense Fund to file a suit. They managed to have theproject halted for a year before works resumed. During the period inwhich the project was stopped, Congress kept on funding the project.Next came the suit by Hiram Hill which sought to have the projecthalted because it violated the ESA. According to the plaintiff, theproject could wipe out the entire snail darter fish population.However, the Tennessee Valley Authority refused to halt theconstructions citing the cost implications and stating that theproject’s societal benefits outweighed the fate of a few fish. Thesuit by Hiram resulted in a court injunction that halted the TellicoDam project because it flouted the ESA (Cannon, 2015).
Sincethe project had significant political backing, amendments were madeto the Endangered Species Act of 1978 in the Senate to allow for someexceptions to be made. One of the changes included the institution ofa “God Committee” which was put in charge of developingexceptions for projects that had significant economic implicationsyet were held back by the ESA. Opponents of the project had tried toargue that it was a white elephant and that the government was losingmoney. However, political pressure ensured that the project wasexempted from the ESA. Subsequently, construction was completed in1979 (Cannon, 2015).
TheTennessee Valley Authority (TVA) should have conducted a thoroughenvironmental impact assessment test to determine whether the projectwould have any bearing on the life of flora and fauna found in thearea. The TVA failed to do so and ended up in a lengthy lawsuit.Moreover, environmental impacts should be mandatory and should play avital role during the planning phase of any project. Also, the TVAshould have offered to relocate the snail darter fish to alternativeponds or lakes to save it from extinction. Such a move would havebeen a cheaper option as opposed to litigation.
Cannon,J. Z. (2015). Environmentin the balance: The green movement and the Supreme Court. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press