ATLANTA — Two metro Atlanta lawmakers want to study moving Georgia’s border about a mile north, a change that would result in the Tennessee River flowing into the Peach State.
The legislators, Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, and Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, introduced legislation Wednesday that claims a flawed survey in 1818 put Georgia’s boundary with Tennessee south of where it should be at the 35th degree of north latitude.
“We have a rightful claim to the land,” Sen. Preston Smith, R-Rome, said of the estimated mile-wide strip of land between the 35th parallel and today’s state line. “It’s about our ability to work with the natural resources associated with that acreage.”
Moving the boundary would cut a swath off the south end of Marion County, Tenn., and County Mayor Howell Moss is not amused.
“That’s a ludicrous idea. They’re after the Tennessee River,” Mr. Moss said.
Georgia’s drought-driven thirst is widely known, and the bill’s sponsors do not deny the resolution is about water.
The 35th parallel cuts through a southern meander of the Tennessee River just upstream from Nickajack Dam, well north of the current state line.
“This has been an accepted boundary for almost 200 years,” Mr. Moss said. “We will adamantly fight them or anybody else who tries to take that from our county,” he said.
The Georgia lawmakers’ joint resolution would create a boundary-line commission to work with similar bodies in Tennessee and North Carolina to resolve the dispute.
The boundary today is marked by the Camak Stone, placed by University of Georgia professor James Camak at where he figured the Tennessee-Georgia-Alabama lines should meet.
But twice, in 1818 and again in 1826, he did his surveying with a primitive sextant, unsuitable astronomical charts and the old log and chain method, historian Bart Crattie, of Lookout Mountain, Ga., said in a December interview.
Mr. Crattie, a member of the Surveyors Historical Society, said Mr. Camak had fruitlessly begged the Georgia governor for better equipment.
The issue has been raised several times before, going back to 1887, according to the resolution in the Georgia General Assembly. Each time, Georgia has asked for a new survey to put the border where Congress ordered it set when it established Tennessee in 1796.
Rep. Geisinger said the resolution is “a very friendly basis to correct a very poor survey job done in 1818.”
Some Tennessee officials offered guffaws and ridicule at the idea.
“That would initiate the 21st century war between the states,” said Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga.
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, had another suggestion.
“I would offer to settle this dispute over a friendly game of football, but that would be unfair to the state of Georgia,” he said.
Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey had not heard of the dispute, but said the Georgia proposal “doesn’t hold any water” for him.
“If they want to live in Tennessee, they can move to Tennessee,” he said.
Sen. Shafer said its the Tennessee residents who are living in Georgia.
“They’re in Georgia now,” he said. “They just don’t realize it.”
All 56 Georgia senators signed on to the resolution.
But it’s not necessarily about water, said Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, whose district has areas that receive water from the Tennessee River basin.
“I’ve heard about (the mistaken border) all my life,” Sen. Mullis said. “If it’s incorrect, we need to look at investigating it.”
A state line battle may not be good for either state, said Georgia state Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo.
She said she did not know whether the study would be seen as friendly at a time when many Tennesseans fear thirsty metro Atlanta wants to stick a straw in Tennessee’s water source.
“I don’t think it’d be wise to stir up state boundary issues,” she said. “If we do, we might as well take the entire Tennessee River.”
Staff writers Andy Sher, Ben Benton and Matt Wilson contributed to this story.