C. Bart Crattie
Tennessee’s southern border with Georgia and Alabama is not the only one off the mark, thanks to the poor technology of yesteryear’s surveying equipment, according to C. Bart Crattie, a regional surveyor.
Mr. Crattie, who is also a history buff, says most of the Kentucky-Tennessee line is off by as much as nine miles in Tennessee’s favor. In fact, he said, nearly all of Tennessee’s eight state lines are off.
“Tennessee made out like a bandit on all of its surveys,” said Mr. Crattie, of Lookout Mountain, Ga. “On the Kentucky line, it’s off in some places by as much as 9 miles in Tennessee’s favor.”
Policymakers and experts say the sudden interest in border wars, fanned by drought and Georgia’s desire to drink Tennessee River water, is bordering on the absurd.
“Things like this border on silliness, but we take this very seriously,” said U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.
Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., defended a state legislative proposal to move at least one of Tennessee’s state lines.
“It shows you how desperate we are,” he said with a laugh.
Mr. Crattie, who has written about flawed surveys in 1818 and 1826 that set Tennessee’s boundary about a mile north to match the 35th degree of north latitude, said surveyors lining off states and territories in the late 1700s had war to deal with and rough territory to travel while deciding the first Tennessee-Kentucky line.
“If you look at the north line of state of Tennessee, it zigs and zags and has that big hump where Land Between the Lakes is,” Mr. Crattie said. But the whole line is supposed to be on the same parallel, he said.
Obviously, it is not exactly right, since the state line isn’t straight, he said, adding that the humped section near Land Between the Lakes is the most off.
“You tell me they’re going to move those lines?” he said of lawmakers trying to redraw state lines and rewrite history.
In the Land Between the Lakes “hump,” also called the Tennessee Chimney, the original survey was redone several times, sometimes running into trouble with residents who had drawn their own state lines, Mr. Crattie said.
In keeping with a government policy of the time to try to appease residents when possible, the line was deliberately left in error at times, Mr. Crattie said.
One Kentucky folklore story has it that a resident there divulged the whereabouts of a moonshine still in exchange for his favorite state line location.
Mr. Crattie said survey logs don’t bear that out.
“I’d say most of the work was done by sober upright folks. However I wouldn’t want to speculate what they did on their time off,” he said. “Corn liquor is much lighter to carry than corn.”
Drilling for solutions
Even if Tennessee and Georgia were to reach some agreement either about moving state lines or just extending water lines, federal law forbids officials of the two states alone to move water out of the river.
Under Section 26a of the TVA Act, intakes for water withdrawals on the Tennessee River system require TVA approval.
TVA spokesman Gil Francis said the agency is reviewing its present policy about transferring water out of the Tennessee River watershed.
“From time to time we have to look to see if there needs to be adjustment,” said Mr. Francis of the policy review. “It will involve public meetings and be a wide-ranging look at what we’re doing. We don’t have a time frame yet.”
Dodd Galbreath, who as a policy planner in Tennessee’s Gov. Don Sundquist’s administration helped push through Tennessee’s interbasin water transfer permitting law, said what concerns him most about what is going on in the Atlanta-Tennessee squabble is Georgia’s conservation behavior.
“There’s a lot of denial about how they are managing their own resources. Everybody in the Southeast knows Atlanta is growing in a way that is not sustainable,” Mr. Galbreath said.
U.S. Rep. Deal of Georgia said Atlanta’s water shortage crisis is an issue that will be forcing some brainstorming, even of moving state borders.
“It will be one that people will come up with innovative suggestions as to how to solve it, and that’s probably one of them,” he said.
Rep. Wamp doesn’t agree.
“We do have empathy for our neighbors to the South with their water problems, but we have to take care of our resources and protect our state’s rights. Gimmicks like this won’t fly,” he said.
Staff Writer Herman Wang contributed to this story.
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, ...