Some history will have to be overcome should Georgia succeed in its desire to move the state line one mile north to tap into the Tennessee River, Chattanooga attorney Robert Parsley said.
And even if the border should move, giving Georgia access to the tip of Nickajack Cove, at least three federal agencies still would have to give their blessing for water to be moved out the river’s drainage area toward Atlanta, Mr. Parsley’s colleague Robert Dann said.
The two local attorneys spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Chattanooga on Tuesday about issues they said their firm, Miller & Martin, has been researching as a public service in the state-line dispute.
“This is such a complex set of problems,” Mr. Parsley said. “The river is tantalizingly close.”
Mr. Dann told Kiwanians that engineers, not lawyers, should be the ones to decide what should happen because the water flows must be studied carefully to determine the most-efficient method for getting the water without harming the river’s sustainability.
“I’m a Georgia resident, but any interbasin transfers would have to be looked at very carefully,” he said. “Hopefully, engineers, not lawyers, will be the ones to get the plans (for the future) to federal agencies” such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Dann said.
With Atlanta-area residents hungry for water, Georgia lawmakers and business officials have clamored in recent months for ways to get some Tennessee River water diverted into the Peach State. The most controversial idea has been to redraw the state line to include part of the river near Nickajack Cove in Marion County.
Georgia officials say the line was plotted incorrectly in 1818 and 1826 when surveyors with rudimentary tools tried to put the border on what Congress in 1796 decreed it should be: the 35th latitude. Instead, the state line lies about 1.1 mile north of the latitude. If the line were correct, part of the river would be in Dade County, Ga.
Should the line move, however, it also would change the home addresses — and taxes — of some 30,000 residents now claiming to be Tennesseans, according to officials.
So far, Tennessee lawmakers have spurned the idea, refusing to take part in a Georgia study committee.
Georgia officials have not filed a lawsuit officially challenging the border, Mr. Dann said.
The state also has not asked either Tennessee or the federal oversight agencies for an interbasin water-transfer permit, said Mr. Parsley, who lives in Tennessee.
Mr. Parsley said courts have decided three Southeast state-line questions in slightly more than a century. Two of them involved Volunteer State battles with Virginia and Arkansas, he said, while the third was between Georgia and South Carolina.
In each case, the court considered state claims but also land use and residents’ feelings, he said. In the other cases, the land in dispute largely was undeveloped, he said.
“I think it would be a landmark case (should it go to court) simply because it would involve changing the statehood of whole municipalities,” Mr. Parsley said.
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, ...