NASHVILLE — A Tennessee Senate panel on Tuesday approved a resolution rejecting Georgia’s efforts to re-examine the two states’ long-disputed border as a Chattanooga lawmaker warned the issue only was about tapping into the Tennessee River.
“We’re going to be dealing with Georgia on this issue for a long time about water, and this is one way of telling them this is not the solution,” Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, told Senate State and Local Government Committee members. “They don’t really have any desire or care for the people who would be affected by this boundary change. It’s all about water.”
The panel voted unanimously in favor of House Joint Resolution 919, sending the bill, which previously passed the House, on to the Senate floor.
Georgia lawmakers, confronted with an historic drought, want to reopen a boundary dispute that has simmered since 1818. The state line was decreed by Congress in 1796 to follow the 35th latitude. But Georgia officials maintain the boundary was set improperly and belongs 1.1 miles north of where it is today.
Moving the border north would give Georgia access to the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake in Marion County. It also would take in stretches of Chattanooga, East Ridge and Lookout Mountain, Tenn.
Georgia lawmakers last week acknowledged that Tennessee River access is their real goal. Georgia Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, offered to abandon the quest for the boundary commission as well as threats to go to the U.S. Supreme Court in exchange for river access.
“I remain hopeful that Tennessee will work with us to resolve this dispute in a neighborly fashion,” Sen. Shafer said Tuesday. “It certainly would behoove Tennessee to engage in a conversation instead of litigating the matter. Negotiation would be preferable to litigation.”
State boundary disputes can be resolved either through an agreement by two states and subsequent approval by Congress or by bringing the matter before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Officials in both states cite past Supreme Court decisions they contend bolster their respective cases.
The Georgia House and Senate passed resolutions calling for the creation of a boundary commission. Georgia officials also have discussed trying to access the Tennessee River through the Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns the land surrounding Nickajack Lake. The TVA land is bordered by Dade County, Ga.
TVA officials, however, have said any transfer of water out of the Tennessee River watershed would require an extensive review under federal environmental standards.
Sen. Berke said Tennessee officials must continue to “look at our water issues to make sure we don’t become Georgia. And No. 2, we can all work together regionally to figure out how to handle our problems.”
But he said he is not talking about sharing the Tennessee River with Georgia.
The resolution states in part that Tennessee’s General Assembly “realizes that the Tennessee-Georgia boundary has been well established for nearly 200 years, and that there is no valid reason to revisit this issue.”
The Tennessee resolution originally stated that Georgia’s effort was a “veiled attempt to commandeer the resources of the Tennessee River for the benefit of water-starved Atlanta, which is either unable or unwilling to control its reckless urban sprawl.”
Lawmakers later toned down the language.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...