Townsend City Court rebuffed on tuber fine; Townsend City Commission can decide to appeal
By Iva Butler | (email@example.com)
Can a tuber floating down Little River legally get out of the water and cross private property?
Townsend City Court said no, but Blount County Circuit Court said yes. Now Townsend must decide whether to appeal the ruling.
Townsend City Commission will take up the issue at a called meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday in Townsend Municipal Building.
At a hearing on Dec. 6, 2012, Townsend City Judge Chris Ralls found tuber Anthony Damico, then 20, guilty of trespassing on Ye Ole Mill Campground property and fined him $25 and court costs.
Damico, a University of Tennessee student from Morristown and some of his friends, decided on June 23, 2012, to go tubing on Little River, renting tubes from Smoky Mountain River Rat Tubing Co. Shannon Skidmore is in his 19th season of operating the business.
Each tubing company must have a place of access into and egress from the river.
The Damico group did not get out at the River Rat egress spot, but continued to tube the river. They came upon Wears Dam beside Ye Olde Campground, a four-acre property which owner Travis Grant purchased in August 2011. He and brother Jeremiah also own River Rage Tubing Co. and Little River Barbecue, which are located side by side on Scenic 73 in Townsend.
Townsend police officer Tony Rayburn cited Damico and his group for trespassing, which city court upheld.
In city court, defense attorney Joe Nicholson tried to present Ralls with a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers list of navigable waterways in Tennessee, which included Little River.
Ralls would not accept the corps as being a legal authority on which rivers are officially classified as navigable.
If the river is officially navigable, users would have the right to portage around an obstruction such as Wears Dam, Nicholson said at the time.
In his appeal findings, Circuit Court Judge David R. Duggan wrote Wears Dams “is an 8-to 10-foot ‘low head’ dam, meaning that it has a dangerous backwash below the dam which can circulate a person in the water.”
He also wrote Damico “realized that it was not safe to float over the dam and he thought that going onto campground property was the only option.”
$2 toll sought
Campground manager Robert Williams said he told Damico that for $2 he could go through the property and re-enter the river downstream. Because the tubers had no money on them, Williams asked for collateral to assure the $2 fee would be paid, but Damico would not leave his sunglasses.
“All parties involved in the discussion agree that the discussion became heated, that Damico used profanity to the extent that the campground users heard the profanity and confrontational words,” according to the ruling.
The group did not leave any collateral, but walked directly across Grant’s property to a road which allowed them to walk to the public sidewalk off East Lamar Alexander Parkway.
Duggan ruled “that Little River is navigable water of the United States in the legal sense, and that recreational users of the river have the right of portage to proceed onto private property in order to go around obstructions and obstacles in the water.”
The city was ordered to pay circuit court costs under the July 5 judgment.
It is estimated that more than 50,000 people use the river for tubing yearly.