Cliff and Linda White handled every timber that went into the framing of their dream home overlooking Nickajack Cove on the Tennessee River. Today they are Tennessee residents, and they prefer it that way.
“I don’t want to go to Georgia,” said Mrs. White, a Sand Mountain native.
But if Georgia lawmakers are successful in a challenge to move the Tennessee-Georgia state line about a mile north, the Whites would join about 30,000 other Tennessee residents suddenly paying Georgia taxes, posting their addresses differently and carrying new driver’s licenses.
“We only pay about $3,000 in (property) taxes here,” Mr. White said of the couple’s 9,200-square-foot home, which rests on 2.39 acres and has an attached three-car garage.
Up the road, Charlie Smith, a pharmaceutical industry retiree, echoed the Whites.
“We definitely hope it won’t happen,” he said. “It would be very hectic to change addresses, licenses — all the things like that. But I think they’ll settle it for a water (access).”
The proposed change, dubbed a “land grab” by Tennessee officials, would move a 200-year-old state line 1.1 miles north to give Georgia a piece of the Tennessee River.
The present state line was decreed by Congress in 1796 to follow the 35th latitude. It was set in flawed surveys of the early 1800s when surveyors used rudimentary surveying tools and the stars, according to Georgia officials.
Georgia lawmakers in February passed a resolution calling on Georgia’s governor to name a boundary commission to correct the line. Tennessee lawmakers, in turn, have passed a resolution saying the Volunteer State will not participate in the proposed boundary commission.
The people factor
Georgia would gain about 40,000 residents from North Carolina and Tennessee if the boundary is moved, lawmakers have said.
In Hamilton County alone, such a change would mean the loss of 14,989 acres valued with buildings at about $2.24 billion, according to lawmakers’ reports.
That land includes:
* Most of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., including city hall and Lookout Mountain Elementary School;
* Much of South Chattanooga;
* The South Crest area of Missionary Ridge;
* Nearly all of East Ridge, including the city hall and high school;
* The Interstate 75-Ringgold Road exit;
* Audubon Acres;
* The ball fields of Camp Jordan;
* The entire Council Fire and Hurricane Creek developments;
* Almost all of East Brainerd.
Mark Bean, principal of East Ridge High School, said such a change would be more than a hassle.
“I’d say there probably would be a lot of teachers and administrators who would be getting certified in Georgia,” he said. “I would have to get a Georgia teaching certificate after 26 years in the Tennessee system. It would be kind of disruptive.”
John Boyle, a retired resident on the south crest of Missionary Ridge, doesn’t expect to become a Georgia resident because he believes Georgia lawmakers really want to move the state line only near the southernmost point of the Tennessee River in Marion County.
As a transplant from Pennsylvania and Kentucky, he said it doesn’t really matter to him if he is a Georgia resident or a Tennessean, but he thinks Atlanta has a real problem.
“To build a huge urban area where there are limited water resources is not a thoughtful thing, I think,” he said.
Larry Bell, of the Hurricane Creek area, wants Tennessee to hang onto him.
“I’m satisfied with Tennessee taxes, and I don’t want to pay Georgia income taxes,” he said. “I’m a native — born and raised in Tennessee, and I’d like to die in Tennessee.”
Former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey, who developed Council Fire, said residents there are not worried and neither is he, because the border is unlikely to change.
“That’s called wishful thinking more than anything, but it’s not a laughing matter,” he said. “It’s another example of how important water is. And it will become more and more important.”
Maria Stratienko, a 15-year-old Girls Preparatory School student who lives on Lookout Mountain about a half mile from the border, said she wouldn’t mind living in Georgia.
“There are better schools there, and they have the HOPE scholarship,” she said.
Rick Layne, a Southeast Tennessee economic planner who lives in an area of East Brainerd that could become Georgia, said it is clear Peach State lawmakers are getting serious in their run on the Tennessee River and the land it would take to get there.
“It would have a tremendous impact on (Tennessee) state revenues,” Mr. Layne said, adding that he both hopes and believes the effort won’t be successful.
“Since the Tennessee River is under Tennessee Valley Authority control, it’s beyond the state of Tennessee’s ability to say yes, you can have water,” he said.
But the two states’ competitive spirits surfaced even with Mr. Layne.
“I think they should look for alternative sources of water,” he said. “I don’t think anyone here wants Georgia residents to starve from lack of water — except maybe their football team.”
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, ...