With veto, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp draws down in Tennessee water war

With veto, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp draws down in Tennessee water war

May 13th, 2019 by Tyler Jett in Breaking News

Updated at 4:55 p.m. on Monday, May 13, 2019, to clarify that Morris said nature's unlucky breaks costs his state.

Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Jan 15, 2014 The I-24 bridge over the Nickajack Lake is seen from the Highway 41 bridge over the Tennessee River near Haletown.

Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press...

In this year's rendition of the Georgia-Tennessee water war, lawmakers won't even load their squirt guns.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed a resolution to create a boundary line committee Friday, one of 15 legislative measures he axed this year prior to Sunday's deadline. Kemp argued the committee's success was unlikely. Case in point? Lawmakers on the other side of the dispute aren't at the negotiating table.

"Purportedly, the Commission would confer with counterpart commissions in North Carolina and in Tennessee on boundary line disputes," Kemp said in a statement. "At this time, however, North Carolina and Tennessee have not created boundary line dispute commissions."

State Rep. Marc Morris, R-Cumming, argued Georgia should have access to the Tennessee River because in 1818 a surveyor drew the boundary between the states a mile farther south than Congress dictated. The mistake cut off Georgia's access.

Staff Photo by John Rawlston Nickajack Cove is seen from Sand Mountain. Some Georgia lawmakers are attempting to move the state line north by a little over a mile, which would be the midpoint of the Tennessee River at this location.

Staff Photo by John Rawlston Nickajack Cove is seen...

Creeks in northern Georgia also run north, flowing into the Tennessee River. Morris, the resolution's sponsor, said nature's unlucky breaks costs his state an expensive resource.

"We have rights to our water," he told the Times Free Press last month.

Late last week, Kemp's office called Morris to tell him they weren't going to bother with his committee. Morris declined to share his reaction.

"I have absolutely no comment," he said Monday.

Morris' resolution called for an eight-person committee from Georgia to negotiate with lawmakers in Tennessee and North Carolina. If those states didn't come to the table, the resolution asked the committee to create a list of recommendations.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 2/23/17. Nickajack Lake and the Tennessee River looking southbound towards the Georgia State Line on Wednesday, February 22, 2017.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga...

The House passed the measure on Feb. 14, 163-4. The Senate passed it on April 2, 47-2.

House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan appointed northwest Georgia lawmakers to the study committee. Some of them did not plot their legislative offseason around solving the problem, and news of Kemp's veto also did not upset them.

"It's not something I was pushing for or working for," said state Sen. Chuck Payne, R-Dalton. "But at the same time, when you're asked by the lieutenant governor to serve, you should serve."

State Rep. Steve Tarvin, R-Chickamauga, said he didn't know Ralston appointed him to the committee until he read about it on the Internet on April 25. He said the issue is important. At the same time, routing water from the Tennessee River to Atlanta — where it is most needed — would be an expensive logistical headache.

"It's obvious where the line was supposed to be and where it's not supposed to be," he said. "But that's never going to change."

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Georgia State Sen. Chuck Payne is seen at a bill signing ceremony at Gordon Lee High School on Friday, April 26, 2019 in Chickamauga, Ga.

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Georgia State...

State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, the most veteran lawmaker in northwest Georgia, was one of two "no" votes on Moore's resolution. He has watched this fight since taking office in 2001 and does not think an aggressive stance will work. Tennessee lawmakers have no incentive to give up their water, and Georgia hasn't shown the appetite to take the case to court — especially given another legal fight over water access among Alabama, Florida and Georgia, which dates back to 1989.

When the issue came up in 2008, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen asked if Georgia lawmakers were joking, and Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield sent an aide to the Georgia capitol to deliver bottled water. In 2013, a spokesman for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told the Times Free Press he was not interested in an agreement.

The legislature created a study committee on this issue last year, but the group never met. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle did not appoint senators to the committee. State Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, the sponsor on the House side, said representatives held one conference call but never scheduled a meeting.

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Georgia State Rep. Steve Tarvin is seen at a bill signing ceremony at Gordon Lee High School on Friday, April 26, 2019 in Chickamauga, Ga.

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Georgia State...

Recess cancelled

Kemp also vetoed a bill that required every elementary school to schedule recess. The bill also stopped teachers and administrators from taking away recess as punishment.

"While I support expanded recess opportunities for Georgia's students," Kemp said in a statement, "I am a firm believer in local control, especially in education. This legislation would impose unreasonable burdens on educational leaders without meaningful justification."

Mullis sponsored the bill in the Senate, where it passed, 48-4. (The House passed it, 160-11.) Before the March 26 vote, Mullis advocated for the legislation by complimenting — and roasting — other senators.

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / State Sen. Jeff Mullis speaks before a bill signing ceremony at Gordon Lee High School on Friday, April 26, 2019 in Chickamauga, Ga.

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / State Sen....

"Recess is nearly as important as academics," he said. "We all need recess. We all need relaxation."

He asked state Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, to rise.

"That's recess," Mullis said, before spreading his arms to reveal the full glory of his belly. "This is non-recess."

He pointed to state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro: "All right. That's recess."

"Where's the minority leader?" he asked, looking for state Sen. Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain. "That's no recess."

"The senator from the 1st ( Ben Watson, R-Savannah); that's recess," Mullis said. "The senator from the 51st (Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega); that's a lack of recess."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.


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