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Thursday, February 7, 2013

State lawmakers look at Georgia-Tennessee border dispute... again

Georgias claim to the Tennessee River continues to be debated close to 200 years later.
  • U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons
  • Georgia's claim to the Tennessee River continues to be debated close to 200 years later.
State lawmakers have once again decided to take another look at the contentious Georgia-Tennessee border in hopes of finally gaining access to the flowing waters of the Tennessee River.

The dispute over Georgia's northern boundary dates back to 1818, when state surveyors inaccurately determined that the border was 1.1 miles south of where it should actually be located on the 35th Parallel. The disputed area might seem inconsequential, but many state lawmakers over the years have argued that the error has robbed Georgia of a water resource.

Similar plans, which have failed in the past, most recently in 2008, have been criticized as a quick fix to the state's water needs. Now, a bipartisan group of the lower chamber's top lawmakers - including Reps. Jan Jones, Stacey Abrams, and Edward Lindsey - are revisiting the idea and have co-sponsored House Resolution 4.

When House Majority Whip Lindsey, R-Buckhead, spoke to CL last month as part of our legislative preview, he stressed the importance of finding long-term solutions to this issue.

"The fact of the matter is we're still very much a growing region that deals with an inadequate water source," says Lindsey.

Although HR 4 resembles past plans that weren't taken seriously by Tennessean lawmakers, Lindsey says that Georgia should work toward a "win-win" agreement with its northern neighbor.

"Let's go beyond invading Tennessee for the water, the fact of the matter is for reaching out for greater water sources, we need to be thinking outside the box on that level," he says. "What Tennessee needs, which our area has, is economic development. What they have, which we need, is a water source from the Tennessee [River]. They have more than enough water than they'll ever really need."

As part of the resolution, Georgia would agree to accept the flawed boundary as the legal border, provided that:

WHEREAS, the State of Georgia proposes to the State of Tennessee that the dispute be resolved by the states agreeing that the current boundary between the two states reflecting the flawed 1818 survey be adopted as the legal boundary between the states except for an area described as follows which shall be made a part of the State of Georgia by which Georgia shall be able to exercise its riparian water rights to the Tennessee River at Nickajack:

- Beginning at the present intersection of the boundaries of the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee based upon the 1818 survey, which shall be the point of beginning, proceed north-northwesterly from such point along a line extended from the Georgia-Alabama border if such border line was extended north-northwesterly in a straight line to the 35th parallel of north latitude; thence east along the 35th parallel of north latitude for a distance of approximately one and one-half miles; thence south-southeasterly along a line parallel to the line running from the point of beginning to the 35th parallel of north latitude first described herein to the intersection with the present boundary between Tennessee and Georgia based on the 1818 survey; thence west along such boundary to the point of beginning...

But instead of simply bickering over the border's legality, some Georgia lawmakers hope that a "settlement" of the boundary dispute can be arranged between the two states. One idea that Lindsey floated was to develop an "economic corridor" than included Atlanta, Dalton, Chattanooga, and Knoxville.

"In return, [we] could have an adult conversation on access to the Tennessee River," says Lindsey. "I think that makes sense in the long run. I think someday it will, and we need to be going in that direction, starting to be open on that discussion."

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