Gov. Sonny Perdue
WASHINGTON — Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue figured to be a popular person at the recently concluded governors’ conference, but for all the unpopular reasons.
This past year’s historic drought has water-starved Georgia in recent months picking battles with Tennessee over the state line and fanning the flames of decades-old water-rights disputes with Alabama and Florida over two river basins.
Still, Gov. Perdue said there remains no tension in his interactions with his neighboring governors.
“It’s been very cordial, very pleasant,” he said. “We understand we have our own constituencies to care for and represent, but we don’t let that affect our personal relationships.”
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen agreed that there is no personal animosity between himself and Gov. Perdue.
“The conversations I had with Gov. Perdue were warm and friendly,” he said. “We got along fine as two people.”
But though their public personas have been cordial, none of the governors has budged in their positions on the controversies.
Gov. Bredesen has dismissed the attempt by Georgia lawmakers to move the state line to the 35th parallel so the water-starved state can access the Tennessee River, calling it “grandstanding.”
But Gov. Perdue said he takes the issue seriously, pointing out on maps the location of the 35th parallel, where the border was intended before an erroneous 1818 survey placed it in its current location 1.1 miles south.
Earlier this month, the Georgia House and Senate passed separate resolutions to create a commission with Tennessee and North Carolina officials to resurvey and redraw the border. That would give Georgia access to a portion of the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake in Marion County, along with nearly 15,000 acres of Hamilton County.
“It may have begun as grandstanding, but obviously, our legislature in passing a resolution, I think some of them are very serious,” Gov. Perdue said.
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said Georgians appear supportive of their lawmakers’ efforts.
“The legislators behind this are not people who are viewed as crazy,” he said. “They’re mainstream, solid legislators. Politically, a lot of people in the state are seeing this as legitimate.”
The dispute between Georgia, Alabama and Florida has been more heated, the product of a 20-year disagreement over how much water Georgia should be allowed to retain in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basins.
Florida and Alabama want the Army Corps of Engineers to release more water from upstream reservoirs in Georgia to protect endangered aquatic species and provide adequate water supply to power plants, fisheries and industrial users. Georgia wants more water held back for drinking and residential/commercial uses.
The states failed to meet a Saturday deadline set by the Department of Interior to hammer out a water-sharing plan. Gov. Perdue, this past week prior to the deadline, accused Florida and Alabama of “going through the motions” during negotiations.
“Georgia has a more critical issue. I’m talking about people’s drinking needs,” Gov. Perdue said. “When you don’t have the same level of criticality, you get different degrees of seriousness in addressing those.”
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s office did not return calls seeking comment, but he told The Associated Press the issue likely will go to litigation.
“The suggestion by Gov. Perdue that the water supply problems of Atlanta are more critical than the needs of the people of Alabama and Florida is ... disappointing,” Gov. Riley said.
As with Georgia’s battle with Tennessee, Dr. Bullock said Georgians aren’t too worried about alienating the state’s neighbors.
“There’s no more concern than with the fact that they voted not to have a University of Florida license plate,” Dr. Bullock said with a laugh. “Nobody’s worried about that either.”