Most important bill of 2013? A river runs through it

The final day of the legislative session is upon us, with a variety of high-profile bills from guns to ethics to education yet to be decided. But legislators already have taken what could become one of their most consequential actions this year.

And it’s not even a law.

HR 4 is a resolution calling for the settlement of something that, at least until recently, you probably believed was settled long ago: the Georgia-Tennessee border.

Turns out, HR 4 is the 10th such resolution our General Assembly has passed since 1887 seeking to correct a surveyor’s error in marking the border two centuries ago. This time, however, the Legislature explicitly threatens legal action if Tennessee will not resolve the dispute with us by the end of next year’s legislative session.

You can practically hear the guffaws ringing through national news stories about HR 4. To read some of them, you’d think even a meth-addled Don Quixote would know better than to accept this quest.

I, too, originally was skeptical about the wisdom of waging a 21st-century fight about a 19th-century mistake. But the resolution does not propose anything as unlikely as annexing a 1-mile strip of Tennessee. Rather, we are only asking for a piece of land wide enough to give us access to the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake. Which we were supposed to be able to do when the border was established, at least on paper.

Water, or a lack thereof, is one of metro Atlanta’s most critical challenges for the future. Even if we adopt strict conservation measures, build new reservoirs and settle our dispute with Alabama and Florida over use of Lake Lanier’s waters, metro Atlanta could face a shortage of water within two decades.

The Tennessee Valley Authority in 2004 found the Tennessee River had 1 billion gallons per day of excess capacity. Transferring even a quarter of that amount to metro Atlanta, as TVA envisioned, could extend our ability to meet demand for water by at least a couple of decades more.

Brad Carver, an attorney with Hall Booth Smith and Slover, argues Georgia should be willing to sue Tennessee in the U.S. Supreme Court (the only court with jurisdiction in state-border disputes) because we stand to win.

“We’ll be able to clearly establish our border is the 35th parallel, and it intersects the Tennessee River,” Carver told me recently. The document outlining Georgia’s 1802 cession of its western land to the federal government states Georgia’s border “expressly intersects the Tennessee River,” he said.

As state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, noted during a floor debate Monday, the Georgia-Alabama border established at the same time does not run due north from the Chattahoochee River. Rather, it purposely runs north by northwest on a line that takes it straight to the Tennessee River’s bend at Nickajack.

Likewise, Carver said, the 35th parallel was described as Georgia’s northern border when the state was readmitted to the Union in 1870.

“We establish that. Then the burden shifts to Tennessee to prove Georgia has acquiesced” its claims to the disputed land, he said. “The shortest period of time found acquiescent [by the Supreme Court] was 42 years.”

With 10 resolutions during the past 126 years, none allowing more than 37 years to pass in between, that will be hard for our northern neighbors to prove.

Helping our cause is that Tennessee’s legislature in 1889 and again in 1905 described our border as “gravely in doubt.” In 1974, the U.S. appeals court for the District of Columbia found the border was still in dispute. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission came to the same conclusion in 1981.

It’s not as if this is the kind of dispute that happened only in the dim ages of the past. As recently as 2003, the high court settled a similar fight between Virginia and Maryland.

Not to take anything away from the other bills that have passed this year or may yet pass, but HR 4 could surpass them all if it helps solve a dispute from the past and answer a question hanging over our future.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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92 comments Add your comment

Mitch

March 28th, 2013
6:32 am

There is a Negotiations Position on this issue, “agree to development of the Chattanooga Airport as a reliever airport for Atlanta in return for access to the water of the Tennesee River”.

Elaine

March 28th, 2013
6:47 am

The problem is that Tennessee has roughly 200 years of proof that Georgia has surrendered legal and political jurisdiction to the region given it has been the sovereign entity ruling over the 30,000-40,000 residents for all this time. Georgia failed to claim any sovereign rights in any of the previous legal battles with Tennessee over the area (such as during that whole copper mine debacle) and the situation between Maryland and Virginia is an apples to oranges comparison. Not to mention every legitimately similar case the Supreme Court has tackled puts jurisprudence in Tennessee’s favor. They aren’t going to uproot the lives of thousands of Tennesseans to fix a border issue that Georgia neglected for 60 years then randomly took up again when it suited its fancy. Not once has Georgia, in all its many resolutions, claimed responsibility for the PEOPLE and has only demanded water. Who would want to be lumped into a state that only views them as collateral damage to feed its urban sprawl?

wallbanger

March 28th, 2013
6:56 am

Negotiations shouldn’t be necessary. Seems like a good surveyor is needed.

DeborahinAthens

March 28th, 2013
6:59 am

We will spend millions in legal fees– money that could be better used elsewhere–to be told by the SCOTUS that, since we have gone for over a hundred years letting TN have use of that land, it has become, in fact, their land. I’m no lawyer, but almost every state in the union has statues that say, in effect, that, if the entity using the property is using it with the assumption that they own it, and it has not been contested within a certain period of time (and I would guess a couple of hundred years would do the trick!) then the squatter has the right to continue using the property. It even has a name,”Squatter’s Rights”. I think this is an example of our useless legislators avoiding real legislation to curb water use and to avoid building more reservoirs, which are badly needed. Whose cousin, brother, sister, father are they going to hire to argue this case? Follow the money.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 28th, 2013
7:00 am

I wouldn’t throw the rain barrels out just yet.

Jefferson

March 28th, 2013
7:15 am

This resolution proves more than ever ….

Reasonable people can come to reasonable conclusions under reasonable conditions unless, you area GA republican.

Stand up and cheer !

@@

March 28th, 2013
7:25 am

As recently as 1981!!??!! “The wheels of justice grind slowly but exceedingly fine…”

And we’ll be drawing from Nickajack Lake.

Apropos.

Cam

March 28th, 2013
7:35 am

The legal cost by the state is far less than the loss of businesses and jobs over the next 20 years. When our water runs out, and we came very close to that happening in 2007, people will be crying for an answer and it will be too late. Most people don’t understand the legal argument but it is on our side.

As to Jefferson’s comment, every Democrat in the legislature voted in favor of this resolution. There were only four Republicans who voted NO. This is a bipartisan issue. Sen. Jason Carter is one of the strongest believers in our legal case and thinks we need to take this to the Supreme Court immediately.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

March 28th, 2013
7:38 am

What’s the over / under on Jefferson repeating his 7:15 between now and the end of the week? :roll:

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

March 28th, 2013
7:53 am

DeborahinAthens, if you want to stop development cold in the state of Georgia for all time, let’s implement your plan.

‘Cause that’s the end result if we do.

There is not enough natural flow nor runoff into the Chattahoochee basin to sustain growth here.

So if you want an ever-increasing population to either move away or live in poverty due to no new jobs being available, let’s do your plan. :roll:

HDB

March 28th, 2013
7:53 am

It seems as though we have the science to solve this dispute with minimal doubt; commission a team of mutually-agreed upon surveyors, use the science (satellites, GPS…whatever) to accurately determine the border, present the findings to the Supremes….and deal with the results……

Finn McCool (the system isn't broken; it's fixed)

March 28th, 2013
8:04 am

Let’s nuke Tennessee!

It’s WAR I say, it’s WAR!

Finn McCool (the system isn't broken; it's fixed)

March 28th, 2013
8:05 am

Jon Stewart plowed into Democrats last night and deservedly so. Colbert, on the other hand, water boarded a mop.

Weasel

March 28th, 2013
8:06 am

Activate the National Guard! Time for some land grabbing!

Thomas Heyward Jr

March 28th, 2013
8:07 am

“Georgia’s northern border when the state was readmitted to the Union in 1870.”
.
THAT’s what needs to be re-examined.
.
Forward Liberty.
(and solvency).

Litt

March 28th, 2013
8:18 am

Giving Atlanta access to water from the Tennessee would be akin to giving a crack addict access to a 24/7/365 all you can snort cocaine bar.

curious

March 28th, 2013
8:21 am

What would have happened if GA had not applied for readmission to the Union in 1870?

Anton Chigurh

March 28th, 2013
8:29 am

Pump water into the aquifer during times of excess. Draw out only that amount during drier times. No need to condemn land to put under water, or build dams. San Antonio does this and North Georgia’s geology is perfect for this type of water management.

indigo

March 28th, 2013
8:34 am

Tiberius – 7:38 “what’s the over/under on Jefferson repeating his 7:15 between now and the end of the week”

The same that you will be repeatedly trashing Obama every chance you get from now until the dim and distant future.

Thomas Heyward Jr

March 28th, 2013
8:36 am

curious

March 28th, 2013
8:21 am

What would have happened if GA had not applied for readmission to the Union in 1870?
————————————————————–
.
Don’t kid yourself curious.
They didn’t have that option.
And the term “union” is not a proper term in that “union” denotes a voluntary membership.
.
If they refused to “apply”……the Federales would have sent more troops to kill more women and children and destroy more property.
.
See War criminal Sherman.

The Snark

March 28th, 2013
8:42 am

I say let’s go for it. What’s a few million in legal fees when we have a chace to postpone real water conservation measures and continue wasting it as we always have? The lawyers who would get the fees say we have a good case. Good enough for me! Besides, we’d probably just waste the money anyway on DFCS caseworkers or public health.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

March 28th, 2013
8:52 am

“The same that you will be repeatedly trashing Obama every chance you get from now until the dim and distant future.”

Indigo, at some point you’re really going to have to bone up on the English language if you’re going to contribute anything of interest or substance. Note: I do not repeat the same inane statement over and over again. Jefferson does.

Class dismissed.

You failed.

curious

March 28th, 2013
8:58 am

Thomas Heyward Jr .
“Don’t kid yourself curious.
They didn’t have that option.
And the term “union” is not a proper term in that “union” denotes a voluntary membership.
.
If they refused to “apply”……the Federales would have sent more troops to kill more women and children and destroy more property.”

Yes, but after a few more years, the Federals would have tired of the occupation and gone home.

Rafe Hollister

March 28th, 2013
9:25 am

We have been dithering for 100 plus years. Seems to me, you bring the suit now, negotiate while the courts dither. Tennessee has shown that they have no incentive to solve the issue, so why more dithering. A suit forces their hands. This is just another wasted year!

joe

March 28th, 2013
9:29 am

Won’t happen…statute of limitations. A lawsuit will be a waste of money.

Just Saying..

March 28th, 2013
9:43 am

” I do not repeat the same inane statement over and over again.”

Epic fail.

Just Saying..

March 28th, 2013
9:46 am

Joe, right thought, but laches is the legal term you’re referring to.

Jefferson

March 28th, 2013
9:47 am

We have a winner, give them a cupie doll !!!

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

March 28th, 2013
9:51 am

“Epic fail.”

As you have just done again, Just Saying.

Just Saying..

March 28th, 2013
10:00 am

“As you have just done again, Just Saying.”

Ah, Tib, go to the window. Listen to the laughter…

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 28th, 2013
10:04 am

HR 4 is a resolution calling for the settlement of something that, at least until recently, you probably believed was settled long ago: the Georgia-Tennessee border.

Heck Mississippi just got around to ratifying the 13th amendment outlawing slavery.

Better late than never I guess.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 28th, 2013
10:06 am

Why not have the winner of the UGA vs Tenn game win the dispute.

Now that would be some theater.

Aquagirl

March 28th, 2013
10:13 am

Of course the concept of limited consumption is a no-go with House Republicans. Check out David Ralston’s pic. MOAR! MOAR! MOAR!

what’s the over/under on Jefferson repeating his 7:15 between now and the end of the week?

If Tiberius is irritated you know you’ve hit the target dead center. Endless sprawl and exurbs are not reasonable, the world is not a Las Vegas buffet for developers and their politician buddies.

JKL2

March 28th, 2013
10:26 am

Is it time for an obama drone strike?

bluecoat

March 28th, 2013
10:30 am

Our Gov. Haslam seems to be a reasonable person.Could be he will work with you.Also adverse possession should rule.Open,hostile,tax paid,possession.
I would suggest Georgia be allowed water.But a leased pipeline r/w and a cost per gal.Also TN. to set the max gallons withdrawn from TN river.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

March 28th, 2013
10:31 am

“Endless sprawl and exurbs are not reasonable, the world is not a Las Vegas buffet for developers and their politician buddies.”

Never said it was, Aquagirl, but since the only way you can attempt to debate is to create a false argument regarding someone else’s position, I expected nothing less from you. And I’ve been closer to the “endless sprawl” issue than you ever will be, as I was a commissioner during the time when our county was one of the fastest growing in the NATION, let alone Georgia.

The problem with limiting consumption is that you stop development; not merely slow it down. Businesses won’t move here, especially ones that require water for their manufacturing process. Power grids cannot be expanded unless you like coal or natural gas.

So the end result of your preferred policy, Aquagirl, is stagnation and joblessness.

Dirty Dawg

March 28th, 2013
10:56 am

Any state that requires companies – like Volkswagen – that built a plant within ten miles miles of the Georgia border, to only hire Tennessee residents, or sub-contract with Tennessee-based companies, in return for the tax incentives they offered, ain’t gonna give Georgia the sweat off their balls, much less water to ensure that North Georgia will remain a regional power as opposed to Chattanoogee.

MarkV

March 28th, 2013
10:57 am

I am as much for water conservation as anyone, but I think the argument about potential water access from the Tennessee River delaying conservation measures sounds to me too much like the “starve the beast” argument of the conservatives regarding government. If there is a good legal right – and there seems to be one – why not explore that possibility? The argument about statute of limitation has been well covered in Kyle’s article, also with a pertinent reference to a similar fight between Virginia and Maryland. One sticking point might be the resistance of states down the stream to the reduced flow.

1961_Xer

March 28th, 2013
11:08 am

First, I agree that Georgia should pursue this and has a good chance of winning. Where the border is supposed to be is CLEAR. The only thing on TN’s favor is that GA took so long to aggressively pursue this issue.

But I am hoping that Georgia does NOT prevail. It was sprawl and rampant unrestrained development that set us up for the huge bubble that haunts the Atlanta metro housing market today. We don’t need that again.

MarkV

March 28th, 2013
11:17 am

Access to more water and reasonable policies regarding sprawl and development are not incompatible. Let’s face it, we will need more water in the future.

Logical Dude

March 28th, 2013
11:23 am

How about investing in Desalinization technology. Georgia has access to a huge amount of water on the Southeastern border.

It just needs to be desalinized for usage.

What?? If we are going to continue growing our population, as well as agriculture with our increasing amount of drought, it’s common sense to provide good solutions now that will benefit the state in 10 – 50 years.

Well, or go to war with Tennessee.

MarkV

March 28th, 2013
11:32 am

Desalination is definitely a good idea to explore, but its use would not be in conflict with water from the Tennessee River. It would help the need in the southern part of the state, while the TN source would help the north.

Skip

March 28th, 2013
11:37 am

Not a lot of background before most of you post. It’s never been a secret, Georgia will never get a drop.

Georgia

March 28th, 2013
11:42 am

The folks in Tennessee wont sit still for this hijacking of the Nickajack, nor will they stand for namejacking the border intersect with the river. The folks in Georgia will view any attempt to block our rights to the river water as new “fightin’ words”. I predict border incidents of violence so vile and bloody, that militia from both states will engage in a guerrilla civil war. History has shown that restricted water access always leads to war. How long will Georgians believe that errant surveyor story? Tennessee must think that not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth. I mean, don’t ask Georgians about how to handle this issue now, ask them when they run out of water. Georgians won’t wanna know; they wont even want us to ask them, they’ll just expect us to get that water. It’s simple freakin’-economics, man.

bluecoat

March 28th, 2013
11:56 am

GA. needs to build more reservoirs.If not how will these politicians make big bucks on property proposed for that purpose?

Gene Holmes

March 28th, 2013
11:56 am

On MarkV’s point about resistance from states downstream: Alabama would actually benefit from a Tennessee River IBT in GA, since it would augment the much smaller Chattahoochee and Coosa Rivers over which AL has been litigating. And TVA’s 2004 study shows that TVA’s reservoir levels in north AL would be unaffected. Those north AL counties have previously blocked a proposed IBT from the Tenn River to Birmingham, but this could accomplished indirectly by the IBT in GA. And Florida has specifically called for the Corps to consider an IBT into the ACF basin, so FL supports this effort. Mississippi and Kentucky have not indicated any opposition, since the TVA study shows it would not affect them anyway.

Aquagirl

March 28th, 2013
12:05 pm

And I’ve been closer to the “endless sprawl” issue than you ever will be, as I was a commissioner during the time when our county was one of the fastest growing in the NATION, let alone Georgia.

If you were a commissioner in one of those counties there is nothing more to be said. Places like Gwinnett (the oldest of the car-burb havens) speak for you. They’re bottomless pits of consumption and when the easy subsidized money is gone the sprawl developers move farther out, leaving empty big boxes and literal piles of feces.

I sympathize with people who want cheap housing and suburban schools but it’s subsidized living. You claim to be a Constitutionalist? HAHAHA! I usually accept people’s given nicknames but yours is a complete joke. You’re a big-gubmint con.

Gene Holmes

March 28th, 2013
12:07 pm

On Logical Dude’s question about desal, MarkV is right that its feasibility is limited to the coastal area. The Governor’s Water Contingency Task Force reported in 2009 that using desal for metro ATL would cost about $6 per 1000 gal versus only $1 per 1000 gal for Tenn River water. A “no brainer” as UGA’s Dr. Jim Kundell once called it.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 28th, 2013
12:15 pm

If you were a commissioner

Highly dubious.

Tib has pretended to be a lot of different things on different days depending on the weather and availability of his meds.

@@

March 28th, 2013
12:17 pm

PoliFore/Georgia:

I must confess…when I saw the word “Nickajack”…you immediately came to mind.

================================

I’m always amused by liberals who complain about urban sprawl. They conveniently ignore the urban sprawl that results from liberal zoning restrictions. Low to middle-income families are priced out of the housing market. That way, the liberal elite can be far removed from the rabble.

I have always suspected there’s a hidden agenda behind their actions. (R) doesn’t always stand for Republican.

John C. Goodman wrote an article on it:

Welcome to the People’s Republic of Boulder, Colorado.

When you ask the residents what they like about Boulder, they are quick to respond. “You won’t find any large billboards telling you where the nearest Target is,” I was told. And, “Where you might find a McDonald’s or a Taco Bell in some other city, in Boulder you are more likely to find Starbucks or Whole Foods.”

To make sure that things stay that way, Boulder has virtually destroyed any possibility of new housing that people who shop at Target and eat at McDonald’s would find affordable. Through tight zoning restrictions, the city has virtually legislated new, middle class housing out of existence. The city has even purchased large tracts of land to make sure development doesn’t occur.

San Francisco’s no different. Indeed, liberal elites in the northeast employ the same tactics to keep themselves gated from the rest of us ne’er-do-wells.

I find it strange that our liberals would support such aversive bigotry & (R)acism.