Georgians who thirst for Tennessee River water think they have found a “bombshell” supporting their legal justification for moving the state’s border 1.1 miles north into the Volunteer State.
Meanwhile, Tennessee lawmakers said Tuesday they are getting more serious about the issue and will remove most “tongue-in-cheek” language from a legislative resolution that would reject Georgia efforts to revisit a disputed 1818 boundary survey.
The ongoing “border war” has pitted lawmakers in both states against each other for weeks, generating national headlines, jokes, stunts and, increasingly, a tone of seriousness. Facing a historic drought and rapid population growth in Atlanta, Georgia lawmakers’ seek to move the border north so it would take in a portion of the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake in Marion County.
Georgia state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, who sponsored a resolution that would create a border commission to resurvey and reset the boundary at the 35th parallel, now argues that “Tennessee’s own ratification of the 1818 survey is invalid.”
“It was made subject to Georgia also ratifying the survey line, which never happened,” Sen. Shafer said.
“Georgia has repeatedly objected” to the survey line, and “on at least three occasions, Tennessee itself has acknowledged the line must be corrected,” he said.
Tennessee’s 1819 resolution defines the border as marked by Georgia mathematician James Camak. But it required Georgia to ratify a “similar” border before Tennessee’s measure took effect. Georgia never did that in its own resolution at the time.
Some historians and surveyors, however, are not so sure about Sen. Shafer’s argument.
“No. 1, it’s a moot issue with the length of time ... the border has been marked at the (current) boundary,” said Greg Spies, a surveyor and assistant professor at Troy University in Alabama who has researched and published articles on the dispute.
“If it’s not moot, when Georgia ratified the Alabama boundary, it in effect ratified the 1818 survey,” Mr. Spies said. “I think they’re kind of grasping at straws.”
Questioning Tennessee’s ratification of its own border language is nothing new. University of Georgia professor E. Merton Coulter in a 1951 “Georgia Historical Quarterly” article noted Georgia never met Tennessee’s requirement of ratifying a “similar” border.
However, he also concluded Georgia’s lack of a boundary challenge, despite knowledge that Mr. Camak questioned it in 1826 while surveying the Alabama-Georgia border, was as good as giving up all rights to the land.
In fact, Georgia ratified the Alabama-Georgia border, which leaves the Tennessee-Georgia border at the 1818 Camak calculation, even after Mr. Camak’s notification of doubts, Mr. Coulter concluded.
Last month, the Georgia House and Senate each passed a separate resolution that would set up a commission to resurvey the boundary and set it at the 35th parallel, which Georgia maintains is the true boundary.
In Tennessee on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville, moved House Joint Resolution 919 dealing with the matter through the State and Local Government Committee. Sixty-eight of 99 House members have signed on as co-sponsors of the measure.
Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, who is among the co-sponsors, told Rep. Odom that “if Georgia were successful, I might be serving in the Georgia state legislature in a couple of years because it would take my house.”
But Rep. Dean noted, “I don’t take this as a tongue-in-cheek matter, and I would have been a little more comfortable if some of the wording might have been a little bit different.”
Replied Rep. Odom, “I understand; we’re working on that.”
The main intent of the resolution is to “simply say we’re not going to participate in this boundary commission because we don’t believe there’s a problem,” Rep. Odom said.
In its current form, the resolution mentions that “long-term possession of real property trumps survey boundaries” and cites several U.S. Supreme Court rulings involving boundary disputes that the state believes are beneficial to its case.
The resolution also states that “pertinent” legal precedent favors Tennessee “just as good fortune often smiles upon the righteous.” It also accuses Georgia lawmakers engaging in an “election-year ploy” for the “benefit of water-starved Atlanta, which is either unable or unwilling to control its reckless urban sprawl.”
That type of language may need to go, Rep. Odom said later.
Sen. Shafer said he remains “hopeful that Tennessee will appoint boundary line commissioners of its own and begin a neighborly discussion to resolve this matter.”
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, ...