Tennessee, Georgia at war over state line; battle could go to Supreme Court

photo Border dispute

Despite nine previous resolutions that have left a 200-year-old border dispute unresolved, Georgia lawmakers want Tennessee to know this time they mean business.

In a vote Monday, Georgia senators approved House Resolution 4 with one key change: If Tennessee declines to settle, the dispute will be handed over to the attorney general, who will take Tennessee before the Supreme Court to settle the issue once and for all.

"I would hope that the Tennessee House and Senate would realize that one, we're serious," said Georgia state Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, "and two, there's no reason we shouldn't resolve it and move on."

Geisinger's resolution in the House offers to relinquish 66.5 square miles of land that Georgia lawmakers claim is rightfully theirs in return for a 1.5-mile strip that would give them access to the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake. The Peach State could build a pipeline to deliver up to 1 billion gallons of water a day to thirsty Atlanta and other parts of Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

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"This resolution is a good-faith offer to settle the long-standing dispute," said Brad Carver, an attorney for the Atlanta firm Hall Booth Smith.

Tennessee lawmakers have said Georgia has no right to Tennessee water and that they will not agree to such a resolution.

No area Tennessee lawmakers could be reached Monday for comment.

Geisinger said Georgia's offer is a reasonable one.

"If they sit down and think it through, they'll understand that this makes sense and we've resolved a question that's been outstanding for 195 years," he said.

If Tennessee does not accept the terms of the compromise, the case will be turned over to the attorney general, who potentially could sue and seek the whole of the disputed territory. And with the territory would come more than 30,000 Tennessee residents, who could wake up one morning in a new state without ever having moved.

"Those folks, I don't think, would be anxious to become Georgians," Geisinger said.

He is confident that if the case is taken before the Supreme Court, the ruling will favor Georgia.

"If we go to court, I can assure you we will win," Geisinger said.

The Senate's amendments to the resolution are expected to be approved by the House today.

"I think we're one step closer to finally getting this boundary dispute resolved after 195 years," Carver said.

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at lburkholder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.