Publication:Johnson City Press; Date:Feb 21, 2008; Section:Front Page; Page Number:1A


Georgia acts to move state line north

Bredesen says resolution ‘absurd’ that would allow tapping into Tennessee River


    ATLANTA — Thirsting for more water in the midst of a drought, Georgia lawmakers took a step Wednesday toward moving the state line and tapping into a powerful river in a neighboring state.

    The Senate unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday asserting that a flawed 1818 survey mistakenly placed Georgia’s northern line just short of the mighty Tennessee River. The measure also calls for the governor to establish a commission to sort out the dispute.

    The House later voted 136-26 to pass a similar plan, which could soon go to Gov. Sonny Perdue.

    The legislation alone can’t move the state line — and it doesn’t neccessarily seek to do so. Instead, it claims the current boundaries are drawn wrong, and that Georgia and Congress never agreed upon them.

    Short of a legal challenge, though, any likely border change would likely require an agreement between Congress and the states. And that’s a long-shot prospect scoffed at by Tennessee officials.

    An adviser to Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen on Wednesday called the proposal “absurd,” and state Rep. Gerald McCormick suggested it was a “ridiculous waste of taxpayer money.”

    “It’s the silliest thing I’ve ever seen any group of Republicans do. I’m embarrassed that they would embarrass the party like that,” said McCormick, a Republican from Chattanooga, a Tennessee town just north of the state line. “They’re idiots.”

    But Georgia partisans say they only want what rightly belongs to Georgia.

    “Allowing our neighbors to the north to hoard the water in the Tennessee River is simply not an option,” said Georgia state Sen. David Shafer, a Duluth Republican who sponsored the measure.

    Shafer appeared to be dead serious, but his colleagues had a bit of fun with the proposed territorial grab. As he began to speak, supporters in the Senate quietly sang “This Land is Your Land.”

    The dispute traces back to a 19th century survey that misplaced the 35th parallel.

    If Tennessee’s southern border stretched along the parallel, as Congress designated in 1796, Georgia would have a share of the Tennessee — a river with about 15 times greater flow than the one Atlanta depends on for water.

    Surveyors now know that the Georgia-Tennessee border was placed about 1.1 miles south of where it should be. But they say borders can’t be updated with every technological advance; that would leave uncertainty about borders everywhere.

    Other critics also point out the proposed Georgia-Tennessee border change goes beyond a simple dip into the river. Not only would Georgia get a chunk of Chattanooga and thousands of residents could have new home states.

    The drought has whetted Georgia’s thirst for the river, but this is far from the first attempt to redo the surveying team’s math.

    Shafer’s resolution traces efforts as far back as 1887, when North Carolina — another state affected by the line — authorized its governor to appoint commissioners and a surveyor to meet with neighboring delegations over the boundary. No record of such a meeting exists, it said.

    “This body has passed resolution after resolution after resolution asking Tennessee to join with us and accurately mark the line,” said Shafer. “Each time our friends in Tennessee have declined.”

    He urged Tennessee to respond in a “neighborly fashion,” but lawmakers there have been less than eager to settle the dispute. Bredesen, for one, has dismissed the bill as a way to ratchet up a “PR war” between the states.

    Others suggested Georgia’s focus is misplaced.

    “We have a situation in which the real problem is water. And Georgia needs to be looking at responsible solutions for how to deal with water and land-use planning, rather than irresponsible land-grabs,” said Tennessee state Sen. Andy Berke, DChattanooga.

    Some Georgia legislators say it might take a legal battle to prove they are serious, and a few are urging the state take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if a compromise can’t be brokered.

    “If they do not concede that line, we may find ourselves in court,” said Georgia state Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell. “And if you look at cases around the country, we may be in a strong position.”