Tennessee would lose parts of East Ridge, Chattanooga and other areas if Georgia lawmakers, angling for Tennessee River access, are successful in moving a border set in 1826, according to a surveyor.
Lookout Mountain, Ga., surveyor Bart Crattie, who has written about flawed surveys in 1818 and 1826 that set the boundary, said if the border is moved about a mile north to match the 35th degree of north latitude, Tennessee could lose property from North Carolina in the east to the Mississippi River in the west.
“It would take (into Georgia) the whole city of East Ridge, East Brainerd, all of St. Elmo, a big part of Lookout Mountain and East Lake,” Mr. Crattie said Thursday.
The Georgia resolution, introduced Wednesday, would create a boundary-line commission to work with similar bodies in Tennessee and North Carolina to resolve problems with what Georgia lawmakers contend were badly done 19th century surveys on the border.
The 35th parallel cuts through a southern dip of the Tennessee River just upstream from Nickajack Dam, north of the current state line.
Sen. Preston Smith, R-Rome, said earlier this week that Georgia has “a rightful claim to the land.”
But according to maps, Mr. Crattie and one of the Georgia resolution’s sponsors, state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, moving the border to the 35th parallel would affect a much larger swath of land —a mile-wide strip.
“Most of it’s national forest anyway,” Sen. Shafer said. “There are very few people who live in the area.”
When it was pointed out that the land includes parts of Chattanooga, Sen. Shafer laughed and said, “well, there’s plenty of Chattanooga addresses in Georgia already.”
He said he was “confident our good neighbors to the north will work with us to correct this error.”
If not, Sen. Shafer said, the resolution authorizes the Georgia boundary commissions to “take whatever steps are necessary to correct the error and resolve the matter.”
“our borders are safe”
On Thursday, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is the Senate speaker, and House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh all stated their opposition to revising the border.
Michael Drescher, Gov. Bredesen’s communications director, said the governor, who has been busy responding to storms and tornadoes that killed a number of state residents, was a “little surprised” to hear about the issue.
“I think our borders are safe in the governor’s hands,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Ramsey, R-Blountville, a professional surveyor, said that while Georgia officials argue an 1818 survey was incorrect, he thinks nearly 200 years of “adverse possession,” which establishes ownership by possession, trumps that argument.
“I would think that using what we in the survey business call adverse position ... if this line has been there that long, almost 200 years (or) 190 years, surely that’s the line now,” he said.
Meanwhile, a concerned state Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, said he intends to seek a legal opinion from Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper on whether Tennessee could be forced to cede land.
The joint resolution by Georgia lawmakers has generated outrage and sometimes-bemused Tennessee opposition to Peach State lawmakers’ effort to change the border.
“I think we need to have our militia down there,” quipped Tennessee House Majority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville.
Sen. Shafer said Tennessee is welcome to do so — provided the troops don’t go below the 35th parallel.
He said the boundary cannot be changed from the 35th parallel unless “both states agree and the Congress approves.”
He also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over border issues between states.
James W. Ely, the Underwood Professor of Law and History at Vanderbilt University, said Georgia officials could go to the U.S. Supreme Court under a constitutional provision providing the court with original jurisdiction in disputes among states.
“It seems to me if the Georgia lawmakers want to do anything beyond the political-hot-air stage, what they’re going to have to do ultimately is bring a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said.
Dr. Ely noted that Virginia in 1893 filed a suit trying to change the Tennessee/Virginia border.
“The Supreme Court ... rejected Virginia’s claim,” he said.
In 1796, Congress established the state of Tennessee with a southern boundary “at the 35th degree of north latitude.” The current boundary marker was set slightly south of the 35th latitude in 1826.
Today, a monument marks the spot where Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama state lines meet.
Staff Photo by Meghan Brown-- A weathered survey marker indicates where the borders of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama meet. Georgia lawmakers are questioning whether the original survey was completed correctly.
Fred McCallie, of Guild, Tenn., visits the site often as he tends some gravesites at the nearby State Line Cemetery.
“I don’t know that it would affect me (if the state line is moved), but I wouldn’t like it,” he said, adding that he was born in North Georgia but his family moved when he was five.
Mr. Crattie said he printed out the Georgia resolution, read it and laughed.
“There’s a saying in surveying that wherever the original monument got set down is the line. The monument is without error,” he said. “But if the error was the other way around and Georgia had access to the river, do you think they would be waving their arms and saying let’s change this?”
Tennessee Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, whose district includes Marion County, said the Georgia lawmakers’ resolution is a “publicity stunt.”
Instead, “we should all be facing the real problems of how we properly utilize our water in a responsible way,” he said.
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, ...
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...