Hamilton County Commission agenda session -- Feb. 28, 2008
Hamilton County could lose thousands of acres and real property worth more than $2 billion if Georgia succeeds in moving the Tennessee-Georgia boundary north a mile or so to the 35th parallel, Tennessee lawmakers said Thursday.
“I just got some information today from the Georgia area where there’s been an appraisal made ... that has a value of over $2 billion,” said House Majority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville.
The comments came as Rep. Odom outlined progress on a resolution he is sponsoring that opposes Georgia’s ongoing effort to revisit what it says is a flawed 1818 survey that set the Tennessee-Georgia border in its current location 190 years ago.
The Georgia House and Senate passed separate resolutions that would establish a commission to study moving Georgia’s state line about a mile north. They have called on Tennessee to participate, which the state would refuse to do through Rep. Odom’s resolution.
Rep. Odom said some 60 of the House’s 99 members have asked to co-sponsor his resolution.
Land involved in the dispute includes parts of Chattanooga, East Ridge and Lookout Mountain in Hamilton County and parts of Bradley, Polk and Marion counties.
In Marion County, a part of the Tennessee River’s Nickajack Lake dips down almost to the Georgia line, which that state’s lawmakers acknowledge is the target of drought-stricken Georgia officials.
Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville, said Geographic Information Systems software shows some 14,989 acres would be lost in Hamilton County.
The land, buildings and other improvements would be worth an estimated $2.24 billion, he said.
“It’s a land grab without any foundation in law,” said Rep. Fincher, an attorney. “Now, it looks like they’ll owe us a bunch of money, too.”
Earlier in the day, Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey said he wants local lawmakers to keep Tennessee River water out of Georgia.
“I would respectfully request, if this body so approves and agrees, that we send an unmistakable message to the state delegation (in the General Assembly) that they should oppose any transfer or anything related to water going to Georgia,” he said.
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has said he opposes sending water to Georgia. Tennessee passed a law in the late 1990s that restricts water-basin transfers.
Georgia state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, the sponsor of the Senate resolution, has said Georgia has a “historical and ecological” claim to the water. He has said Georgia never ratified the 1818 survey establishing the state line, and that the rightful border is the 35th parallel, the boundary set by Congress in 1796.
Hamilton County Commissioner John Allen Brooks said that four county commissioners, including himself, would live in Georgia if the border was moved.
Commissioner Larry Henry, who would be affected, said the dispute may have started as a joking matter, but noted “we really need to walk soft on eggshells on this.”
On Wednesday, Matt Lea, an assistant to Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, and City Councilman Manny Rico drove a truck containing 2,000 bottles of water to Atlanta as part of “Give Our Georgia Friends a Drink Day.”
Mr. Littlefield and Mr. Lea said the trip was an attempt to inject humor into an increasingly serious situation.
Tennessee Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, like several Hamilton County lawmakers, has said he is not taking Georgia’s legal and political efforts too seriously, saying Peach State lawmakers’ efforts are “idiotic and crazy.”
“I hope that’s not going to happen,” said Rep. McCormick of the potential land loss.
He said with regard to Commissioner Mackey’s comments that “all he has to do is pick up the phone. We’ll be glad to address his concerns.”
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, ...