Contract to keep rafts on Ocoee River good for 15 years
The Ocoee River is open for business. Monday, federal, state and local officials celebrated an agreement to keep the river open for recreation.
This agreement means thousands of gallons of water will continue to flow from the Tennessee Valley Authority into Polk County, rafts will also continue to be on the water.
“The power of this river will become an asset of the State of Tennessee." Keith Jenkins with the Ocoee Whitewater Association said. "They will manage the river.”
Rafting creates more than 600 jobs in the county and generates $44 billion in revenue to the region. Keith Jenkins is one of the dozens of business owners who depend on the Ocoee River for their livelihood.
“We see over 200,000 a year," Jenkins explained. "Sometimes 250,000. We have had as many as 300,000 run the river. When the weather is perfect, everyone is out looking for something to do. The economy is good.”
About six years ago, the future of the river was unclear. Representative Chuck Fleischmann went to work to keep it going.
“We saved the industry," Representative Fleischmann said. "It will be safe for decades to come. The deal was reached, the compromise was reached, where actually everyone is pleased with this.”
The $12.8 million contract will last for 15 years. The state will take full control over the river. A committee, appointed by Governor Haslam, will oversee the management and economic impact.
“You have folks from all over the United States that are bringing in dollars for outdoors recreation into the county. This is just a huge draw nationwide," David Bowling the TVA Vice President Land and River Management said.
Officials hope the new contract will bring even more money to the rural county.
“It is in a position to continue to grow," Representative Fleischmann added. "It is going to bring in a lot of money to Polk County, to citizens, to residents. It is great to for the State of Tennessee.”
Under the new agreement, two dozen private rafting companies will pay a 10 percent licensing fee. That money will then go into an expense fund for the agreement.
In 15 years, the committee will review the terms and conditions and decide whether to renew the contract for another 15 years.