A Georgia lawmaker serious about moving the current Georgia-Tennessee border about a mile north — and claiming a piece of the Tennessee River — got personal with Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
Georgia Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, send Lt. Gov. Ramsey a letter on Monday disputing some of the Mr. Ramsey’s statements about the border fracas resulting from Sen. Shafer’s recent resolution to move the border.
He suggested to Lt. Gov. Ramsey it would be in Tennessee’s best interest to negotiate a new border with Georgia.
Sen. Shafer said he took issue with Lt. Gov. Ramsey’s statement that to move the currently recognized border to the location of the 35th parallel of latitude would require first for both legislatures and Congress to agree.
He said Congress and the Georgia General Assembly never approved anything other than the 35th parallel at the border. Surveyors erroneously marked the line in 1818 and again in an 1826 survey, and Georgia never has accepted the resulting line, Sen. Shafer said.
Sen. Shafer’s letter to Lt. Gov. Ramsey suggests that if Tennessee also forms a boundary commission, the border could be redrawn south of the 35th parallel “to accommodate those who have mistakenly believed that they were in Tennessee and do not wish to take advantage of the many benefits of Georgia citizenship.”
Any such deviation from the 35th parallel would require approval by both legislatures and Congress, he said.
Lt. Gov. Ramsey said Tuesday he had not yet seen the letter, but he did have an initial response.
“First of all, people on this side of the (border) don’t have to pay a state income tax, and I think they’re glad for that,” he said. “Probably all we have to do is just encourage them, and we can get more to our side. So I think the benefits of living in Tennessee are much better than living in Georgia. And, I don’t even want to bring up football — or basketball.”
However, if Tennessee officials refuse to cooperate, as some have formally stated as a course of action, the Georgia commission of six lawmakers would have the authority to consider bringing the boundary dispute before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It makes sense to negotiate and not to litigate,” Sen. Shafer said Tuesday.
If it came to the courts, though, Georgia would have a strong case, he said.
“Georgia not only has legal and historical claim to the Tennessee River, but it has an ecological one because all of Northwest Georgia drains into the Tennessee River,” said Sen. Shafer. He said 6 percent of the Tennessee River’s water at the Nickajack Reservoir comes from areas of the river basin in Georgia.
Sen. Shafer dismissed Tennessee officials’ claims of “adverse possession,” saying the concept only exists in state statutes and doesn’t apply in border disputes. Tennessee could argue “acquiescence” by Georgia of the 1.1-mile-wide strip of land, he said.
But he pointed to the last legal battle over the border, and a 1974 U.S. Court of Appeals opinion, that states the disputed land has “been claimed by both states for 156 years.” Numerous other times Georgia has formed border commissions in the past only to be stalled by unwilling Tennessee counterparts.
The formation of the Georgia border commission isn’t official yet. Although both the House and Senate passed an identical resolution last week, one of them has to be approved by the other chamber. Sen. Shafer said he’s beginning to work on bringing the House’s resolution before the Senate, which passed its border commission legislation unanimously.
Although thirsty Georgia lawmakers make no secret this time around that they have an eye on water rights to the Tennessee River, Sen. Shafer said he realizes it won’t solve Georgia’s drought problems.
Changes in Georgia water law and permitting would take years before any of the Tennessee River water could be piped to Atlanta, 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, ...