Editorial, Friday, Nov. 19, 1999

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial, Friday, Nov. 19, 1999

It’s hard for end-of-the-century Northeast Mississippians to imagine the Tennessee River valley in the early decades of the 20th century.

The placid view of calm water from atop the walkway at Pickwick Dam on the river north of Corinth reflects only the end result of a great effort.

The long, twisting, flood-prone corridor from the Appalachian Mountains to the Tennessee’s confluence with the Ohio River at Paducah, Ky., was one of the poorest and most despairing regions until the mid-1930s.

During the darkest days of the Great Depression, the vision of a massive federal enterprise to tame the wild river’s destructive nature and generate electricity for the development of the region took concrete form.

It was named the Tennessee Valley Authority, and Tupelo, Mississippi, was the first TVA city.

Today, in a ceremony at 10 a.m., Mayor Glenn L. McCullough Jr. will take the oath as a director and member of the TVA board. He will become the first person from Tupelo and the TVA area in Mississippi to serve on the powerful and important board and the first Mississippian since the late Congressman Frank Smith of Carrollton was appointed in 1962.

(A former Mississippian, Frank J. Welch, served on the TVA board in the 1950s. He was born in Texas, graduated from the University of Mississippi, served as dean of Agriculture at Mississippi State University, and was appointed to the board after leaving the state for a post in Kentucky.)

McCullough chose Robins Field/Noble Park for the oath-taking. It is symbolically rich. On the same field, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed 75,000 people in 1934. Roosevelt, rallying a nation almost paralyzed by economic crisis, extolled the newly implemented authority (charged by Congress with economic development and conservation as well as generating electricity) and visited a pilot housing project.

Tupelo’s partnership with TVA became the benchmark for the immense grid of locally run rural and city electric utilities contractually, technologically and historically tethered to TVA.

In the larger view, Tupelo’s business relationship as a TVA customer-city also opened doors to a continuing series of partnerships and cooperative ventures. TVA’s congressional mandate to embrace economic development and conservation with electric power generation made possible innovative ventures with partner cities, counties and institutions within the TVA area. Tupelo, to the credit of civic and political leadership, never has hesitated to initiate with TVA intentional conversations about new ideas and possibilities.

TVA’s response includes investment in better education (especially related to practical training and jobs development), industrial and business recruitment, and consultative expertise using all the authority’s enormous human, technical and informational resources.

McCullough was nominated by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and sent to the Senate for confirmation by President Clinton with Skila Harris, another new director, from Kentucky. She was sworn earlier this week and is expected to be in Tupelo today.

McCullough and Harris begin service on the cusp of great expectations in the Tennessee Valley, which stretches from the Mississippi River to the Piedmont of Virginia.

TVA weathered many challenges even political threats in presidential campaigns on its journey toward a new millennium. It brings experience and an attitude for creating and engendering progressive change. Its self-examination of recent years revealed excesses and inefficiencies now in the process of excision. The process must continue under the newly constituted board for the even faster pace and higher demands of the next few decades.

Business as usual and conventional wisdom will be challenged, and when proven inadequate they should be discarded and replaced with better processes and results.

Even with the press for change powered by technology and a changing market for electric power, TVA’s mark on 20th century history is profoundly good. Its lakes, dams and hydrology control formerly uncontrolled floodwaters. Its generating turbines provide more-than-adequate power for a seven-state region. Its adaptability makes it an ideal partner with the private sector and other federally related agencies for work that will make a greater, better difference in the 21st century than it has made in the last 70 years.

McCullough’s opportunity lies in focusing the authority and its resources on the best goals to lay the groundwork for the Tennessee Valley’s most prosperous era.