ATLANTA — Taking a cue from Tennessee state lawmakers’ refusal to form a border commission and discuss the state line dispute, Georgia legislators will try a different approach.
“If they’re not willing, there’s no point in our appointing a border line commission,” said Georgia Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth.
He has been spearheading the legislation that is expected to pass the General Assembly today, the last day of the session.
Sen. Shafer amended his bill to drop the call for group negotiations and instead to direct Gov. Sonny Perdue to deal directly with Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen on the issue.
Georgia lawmakers have made clear their motive in trying to “correctly mark” the state’s northern border at the 35th parallel, some 1.1 miles north of the established state line set by an 1818 survey. They want direct access to the Tennessee River as Georgia faces a historic drought.
The new tack is not receiving any more generous response.
Lydia Lenker, spokeswoman for Gov. Bredesen, said Thursday in a statement, “The two governors spoke briefly about the issue several weeks ago and Governor Bredesen made it clear that he has no intention of moving Tennessee’s border, nor will he give away Tennessee’s natural resources.”
Still, Georgia legislators are expected to vote today on the amended bill, complete with extra legal and historic citations staking Georgia’s claim in the border dispute.
“It directs the governor to begin negotiations, and if those negotiations fail, to file suit,” Sen. Shafer said.
Gov. Perdue would not mind being assigned the negotiating duty, according to spokesman Marshall Guest, speaking because the governor has been in China on a trade mission.
“Governor Perdue will continue to look at ways to provide for the long-term water needs of Georgia, which could include meaningful discussions with Governor Bredesen and our friends in Tennessee,” Mr. Guest said in statement.
If it comes to Georgia’s attorney general filing suit, the border dispute would be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tennessee officials point to past cases citing “acquiescence” of disputed land by one state when allowing the other to provide services to the area, claiming precedent favors the Volunteer State.
However, Georgia officials cite a century of questions and claims that the border was mismarked, including when in 1887 the Georgia Legislature for the first time directed its governor to negotiate the border dispute with Tennessee’s governor and to form border committees.
The Tennessee General Assembly responded in 1889 with similar authorization to study the Georgia border, according to Sen. Shafer’s bill.
Thirsty Georgians outgrowing their water supply and coveting the ample Tennessee River also have proposed negotiating directly with Tennessee Valley Authority and other federal regulators for water access, bypassing the border fight and Tennessee officials, too.
Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, said she believes there should be water-sharing talks between the two states, and Sen. Shafer’s resolution may be a way to open them up.
She suspected, she said, it was not a true claim to move the border.
“I felt from the beginning this was just a negotiation tool,” she said. “We’re not taking away any property from Tennessee.”