NASHVILLE — Tennessee lawmakers introduced a resolution Monday that criticizes the Georgia General Assembly’s attempts to reopen a 190-year boundary dispute between the two states as an “ill-conceived” and “heinous assault on the sovereignty of Tennessee.”
The resolution, sponsored by House Majority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville, says the Tennessee General Assembly “refuses to participate in the Boundary Line Commission purportedly established by the Georgia General Assembly, or any similar commission established for such purpose.”
Attacking Georgia’s effort on legal and political grounds, the Tennessee resolution calls Georgia’s effort an “election-year ploy” that is little more than a “veiled attempt to commandeer the resources of the Tennessee River for the benefit of water-starved Atlanta, which is either unable or unwilling to control its reckless urban sprawl.”
Rep. Odom later said that he is taking drought-stricken Georgia’s effort seriously to move the border 1.1 miles north and take parts of Southeast Tennessee including a section of the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake in Marion County.
Staff Photo by Brett Clark-- George Long walks past a sign on Lookout Mountain announcing the Georgia state line if the border was moved. Georgia Legislature members are trying to move the line.
“What I thought was a joke has turned out to be rather disturbing,” Rep. Odom said. “I thought it was important that the Tennessee General Assembly declare that we would not engage in any talks with Georgia regarding giving them a piece of Tennessee. That would be absurd.”
But a Georgia lawmaker who helped engineer the Peach State resolution warned Tennessee would be wise to “join with us in resolving the border dispute in a neighborly fashion.”
“Appointing boundary line commissioners and beginning discussions would be better, all the way around, than litigation,” said Georgia state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth. “It would be a mistake to quickly dismiss the idea of discussions.”
Georgia says the Tennessee-Georgia border is the 35th parallel and erroneously was set a mile too far to the south during 1818 and 1826 surveys.
Moving it would not only take in part of Marion County but also parts of Chattanooga, East Ridge and Lookout Mountain in Hamilton County as well as part of Bradley County. Georgia officials’ main interest, however, appears to be gaining access to Tennessee River water.
Earlier in the day, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who was in Washington for the National Governors Association, said that he and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue are getting along fine. He said as a result of a “stunt” in Georgia, Tennessee and Georgia reporters had sought to set the two governors “at each other’s throats.”
“Someone is grandstanding and it is just too delicious for people to imagine that we’re somehow not going to take up fisticuffs or put on our dusters and holsters in the hallway over here,” Gov. Bredesen said in a telephone conference call with Tennessee reporters. “But that’s not the way it is.”
“We’re not going to change the border of Tennessee, and I think most sensible Georgians realize that as well,” Gov. Bredesen said.
But Gov. Perdue’s spokesman Bert Brantley said that while Georgia lawmakers’ resolution was an “in your face” way to handle the issue, Gov. Perdue “has been adamant that the boundary is the 35th parallel.”
“If they had come to Governor Perdue first, he would have told them (Georgia legislators) he would have not chosen that route, that it was maybe not the best plan, offering the resolution, stirring the issue before you even have a chance to talk,” Mr. Brantley said.
“That said,” Mr. Brantley said, “Georgia’s been growing and is going to continue to grow. We owe it to our citizens to look at every possible water supply that there is.”
The Tennessee resolution cites the doctrine of “adverse possession,” which states that long-term possession of real property trumps survey boundaries. It also notes “all other pertinent legal precedent favors the Volunteer State, just as good fortune often smiles upon the righteous.”
Rep. Odom’s resolution says the U.S. Supreme Court held in Oklahoma v. Texas that “long acquiescence in the possession of territory under a claim of right and in the exercise of dominion and sovereignty over it, is conclusive of the rightful authority.”
It says that in Georgia v. South Carolina, the court noted “long acquiescence in the practical location of an interstate boundary and possession therewith, often has been used as an aid in resolving boundary disputes.”
Sen. Shafer said the “doctrine of adverse possession does not apply to state boundary line disputes.”
“Tennessee cannot show ‘long acquiescence’ to the erroneous survey line,” Sen. Shafer said. “The U.S. Court of Appeals found in 1974 that there had been a 156-year controversy over the border line.”
He said Georgia periodically has tried to raise the boundary issue since 1818.
Staff writer Herman Wang contributed to this story.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...