Deep Background – APCO’s Abrupt Reversal on Regulation and Property Rights


- 1954: Apco buys 5,900 acres near Smith Mountain Gap. Construction plans begin to gel in the late 1950’s and APCO spokesmen embark on a public relations campaign to ‘sell’ the project to locals. In June 1957, James White, APCO’s District Engineer, spoke before the Franklin County Board of Supervisors: “The company proposes to purchase or obtain flowage rights on all land to be flooded. They will probably purchase more land than that was flooded because certain individuals will want to sell their entire farm where large portions are being flooded. ... On the other hand we feel that the remaining property owners will be more than compensated by reason of having the most ideal shoreline for recreational purposes on the entire project.” (Franklin News Post 20 June 1957) 

- August 28, 1958 APCO files an application with the Federal Power Commission for a license to construct Smith Mountain and Leesville dams. 1959: Apco begins buying more land and flowage rights. 

- July 1959, APCO employees James Jones and A.R. Martin urge Franklin County to enact zoning regulations to prevent undesirable structures being built that would detract from the value of holdings of other landowners (including, of course APCO’s shoreline properties). Jones told supervisors, “You have two years to do some orderly planning instead of waiting until the last minute to do panic planning as is usually done when people suddenly realize situation that faces them.” (Franklin News Post 3 July 1959) 

- April 25, 1960 APCO is awarded a 50-year license to build and operate Smith Mountain and Leesville dams and power stations. License Article 21 requires, “The Licensee shall, prior to flooding, clear all lands in the bottom margins of the reservoirs to be submerged so that no brush or trees protrude above an elevation of 5 feet below the minimum power pools.” (note: Minimum pool is 787-feet) 

- APCO continues to insist that Franklin County establish a planning commission. APCO employee Prince Thornton, becomes its chairman in 1961 and serves until 1967. Under Thornton’s leadership the planning commission develops a use map, comprehensive plan and subdivision ordinances to prevent “shacks and lower-class buildings to be constructed next to more expensive summer homes.” (Franklin News Post 22 Dec 1960) 

- Smith Mountain Lake reaches full-pond in March 1966. Franklin County Commissioner of Revenue reports that a large number of permits were issued each month throughout 1966 for construction of homes, cottages and cabins along the shores of SML. Many permits were also issued for the construction of boat houses and boat ramps. “Not a month went by in 1966 that we did not issue several permits for construction along the shores of the lake,” Gravely remarked. (Franklin News Post 26 Jan 1967) 

- During the 1970’s APCO buys up more shoreline land to assemble into larger tracks, which they sell for millions of dollars in profit. APCO sells these larger tracts with rights to build boat docks. (Roanoke Times 8 Jan 1989, APCO Staff Profited on Lake Deals.) 

- February 17, 1998 FERC amends APCO’s 1960 license to require regulation of docks and uses along the shoreline. APCO fails to inform FERC the 1960 flowage easements do not grant APCO rights to regulate shorelines. FERC never verifies that APCO holds the necessary property rights. 

- Between 1960 and 2003, for some 43 years no one including FERC and APCO, questioned the right of lakefront property owners to construct and maintain docks, stabilize shorelines, remove/plant vegetation or use the easement land in any manner not inconsistent with APCO’s rights to clear for the impoundment of water and overflow shoreline property. 

- August 3, 2003 APCO publishes its Shoreline Management Plan, which FERC approves in July 2005. However, APCO did not begin inspection and enforcement of SMP regulations until FERC issued the results of its special compliance inspection in January 2008. In its 2003 SMP APCO estimated that there were over 6,400 residential docks on SML and LVL, all constructed absent any APCO regulation. Today approximately 84% of all residential docks on SML and 67% of all residential docks on LVL were constructed absent any APCO regulation.