published Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Georgia panel advances border bill in order to get to get Tennessee River water

Pictured is the Georgia state Capitol. Staff file photo.
Pictured is the Georgia state Capitol. Staff file photo.

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Should Georgians get Tennessee River water?

ATLANTA — Georgia State Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, hopes the 10th time will be the charm for Georgia in its longstanding border — and water — dispute with Tennessee.

On Wednesday afternoon Geisinger presented the Senate Judiciary Committee with what he said is Georgia's 10th bill since 1887 seeking to move the border north to the 35th parallel -- smack dab in the middle of Nickajack Lake.

Under what Geisinger said is a "generous offer," Tennessee would keep 65.5 square miles of the disputed territory, including parts of East Ridge and Lookout Mountain, along with the 30,817 residents who live there.

In exchange, Tennessee would give Georgia a 1.5-square-mile strip of land on which it would build a pipeline that would deliver up to one billion gallons of water per day to Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

"It would have little or no effect" on the Tennessee River, Geisinger said.

Tennessee lawmakers show no interest in revisiting Georgia's claims, although Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, said he does have some sympathy.

"You can't blame them, you know," Floyd said. "Poor planning in Atlanta, I guess, and the urban sprawl. And one of the things they forgot about was, gosh, we might want a drink of water some day.

"But not out of this river," Floyd said and added since Georgia borders the Atlantic Ocean, state officials should take a look at desalination plants.

Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, is coming to the issue new, having been elected just last year. Her district includes Marion County, the focus of Georgia officials' interests.

"I suspect it really doesn't really matter," she said of Georgia's historical claims. "That's a good lesson in history, but right now Tennessee is Tennessee and Georgia is Georgia. And we've got our problems, and they've got theirs."

'No impact'

Geisinger cited a 2004 environmental impact statement by the Tennessee Valley Authority that he said shows the Tennessee River has 1 billion gallons per day to spare without impacting users and reservoirs downstream.

Of the 24 billion gallons per day that flow through the Tennessee River at Nickajack, 1.6 billion is runoff from Georgia, he said.

"It's not like we aren't making our contribution," Geisinger said.

Without water from the Tennessee River, Atlanta has 15 to 20 years before demand exceeds supply, said Brad Carver, an attorney for the Atlanta firm Hall Booth Smith. Carver sat next to Geisinger during the committee hearing and spoke extensively.

"This is the most important project that I have worked on my life," said Carver, who explained how water from the Tennessee River would be piped to "enhance" not only Atlanta's water supply, but also the flow in Georgia rivers, including the Flint, Oconee and Savannah.

Because of that, Alabama and Florida would receive significantly more water from Georgia, he said.

One beneficiary, he said, would be Apalachicola Bay, which produces 60 percent of the U.S. oyster supply.

"We're going to give them a bunch of fresh Tennessee River water," said Carver, a Georgia native who worked for a while at the Chattanooga law firm Miller & Martin.

Carver and Geisinger defended the practice of sending water from one river basin to another, called an "interbasin transfer."

"Every great city of the world does interbasin transfers -- or they wouldn't exist," Geisinger said, citing such examples as New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas "and one day, Atlanta."

Geisinger and Carver cited numerous reasons supporting the 35th parallel -- located at the intersection of eastbound Interstate 75 and westbound Interstate 24, as Georgia's northern border. The 35th parallel is cited in the Georgia Constitution, they said. Georgia's boundary originally stretched west to the Mississippi River, and the 35th parallel was cited as Georgia's northern boundary when the state gave its western land to the United States.

Geisinger and Carver appeared together on an episode of the History Channel's "How the States Got Their Shapes" TV show. Carver showed how close the current Georgia border is to Nickajack Lake by standing in Georgia and hitting a golf ball about 130 yards into the reservoir.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Geisinger's bill, HR 4, with the exception of ex-President Jimmy Carter's eldest grandson, Jason Carter, D-Decatur, who cast a symbolic "no" vote, because he thinks Georgia should try to take back all of the disputed territory.

Staff writer Andy Sher contributed to this report.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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