Friday, February 8, 2008

A new, ridiculous water war in the South

Water war between the states is for real
Tennessee defiant as Georgia tries to move state line to tap into river.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tennesseeans reacted with humor, anger and defiance Thursday to Georgia's legislative attempt to move the border north so the drought-plagued state can tap into the Tennessee River.

"Us good Tennesseeans will take our long rifles up to Lookout Mountain and fire when ready," said Justin Wilson, a Nashville attorney and former deputy governor.

Should Georgia fight to extend its border to get back land it says is in Tennessee? Yes. It's Georgia's and we want it back!

Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth) and Rep. Harry Geisinger (R-Roswell) introduced resolutions this week to, in essence, move the state line a mile north which would run the border right through a bend in the river. Then, the legislators say, Georgia could send billions of gallons of water to parched Atlanta without Tennessee's permission.

Shafer, Geisinger and others say an "erroneous" survey completed in 1818 placed the border 1.1 miles below what Congress had earlier established as the boundary.

Virtually every Georgia legislator signed on to the resolutions (SR 822 and HR 1206), which direct Gov. Sonny Perdue to remedy the border dispute with his Tennessee counterpart.

"While we know that this proposal is not a short-term remedy to our current drought situation, Gov. Perdue is open to looking at all options as we plan for Georgia's long-term future needs," said Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley, adding that the governor hasn't scheduled talks with Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Bredesen, busy dealing with the aftermath of this week's deadly tornadoes in his state, couldn't be reached for comment.

The resolutions also seek creation of a boundary line commission, composed of legislators from Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina (which shares a border with both states).

"Most people in the (Tennessee) Legislature understand this is a publicity stunt, but my constituents don't think that," said state Sen. Andy Berke, a Democrat whose district includes Chattanooga and the river. "They don't think this is an appropriate action for the Georgia Legislature to take even if it is in jest."

Shafer said it's no trifling matter. The correct boundary was set by Congress two centuries ago and the error must be corrected.

"The boundary of the state is the boundary of the state and can only be changed by acts of the Tennessee and Georgia legislatures and of the U.S. Congress," he said. "It cannot be changed by a mathematician with a faulty compass."

Georgia's predicament took on added importance with Tuesday's ruling by a federal appellate court curtailing Georgia's access to Lake Lanier – metro Atlanta's primary water source — in the future.

"Certainly it puts us in a difficult position," said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who supports the Georgia legislation.

The crux of Georgia's complaint revolves around "a flawed survey conducted in 1818 and never accepted by the State of Georgia," according to the resolutions. Some surveyors, politicians and attorneys on both sides of the border agree that the state line runs too far south.

"I'd heard that the survey is in error, but the simple fact of the matter is that you don't rewrite almost 200 years of history because you want to," said Wilson, who served in then-Gov. Don Sundquist's administration until 2003.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield scoffed at Georgia's legislative broadside, adding that boundaries, like other intrastate disputes, must ultimately be resolved by Congress or the federal courts.

"Georgia's legislature needs to seriously address (water) conservation rather than going off on a quest and tilting at windmills," Littlefield said.

Georgia officials agree it's a federal issue — and say that works in their state's favor. The Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal agency, manages the river, a legal distinction which might let Georgia take its case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court and avoid dealing with Tennessee.

Berke took to the Senate floor in Tennessee on Thursday to solicit advice from colleagues on how to fight Georgia's cross-border parry.

"My constituents in Marion and Hamilton counties have no desire to be part of the state of Georgia," Berke said in an interview. "They are going to remain in Tennessee."