Georgia House Resolution 4 is the Peach State’s effort to be a good neighbor to our Volunteer neighbors, encouraging them to put the proverbial fence back in the proper place. By doing so, Tennessee can clear up uncertainty for 30,000 citizens, avoid a legal battle and help solve a water supply challenge not just for Georgia, but for two other Southern states.
Flowing through the Tennessee River is more than 1.6 billion gallons per day of Georgia water, arriving from rills, creeks and rivers in Georgia’s Blue Ridge, among the rainiest parts of the continental U.S. The Tennessee Valley Authority estimates the river has at least one billion gallons of excess capacity each day.
Just half of that daily excess — or less than a third of what Georgia puts into the river — would completely meet all of Metro Atlanta’s water needs for the next 100 years, if not longer.
In 1818 a flawed survey improperly sited the line one mile south of the mutually agreed upon border at the 35th parallel. Tennessee ratified the incorrect boundary, but Georgia never did. Tennessee has since rebuffed or ignored nine different attempts to resolve the issue.
It’s understandable why Tennessee has sought to avoid this conversation. This disputed one-mile strip of land contains 30,000 residents and a bend of the Tennessee River, the seventh-largest river in the U.S.
However, it’s essential that we actually begin the work to right this cartographical wrong.
H.R. 4 is a good faith effort designed to avoid litigation. This new proposal would grant Georgia riparian rights to the Tennessee River by moving the border only at the Nickajack reservoir and recognizing the remainder of the flawed survey as the official boundary for the two states.
This resolution spares both sides a contentious and protracted legal battle, one with the odds stacked against our northern neighbors. It also would help prevent chronic flooding in the Tennessee River valley and provides extra water to Georgia, Alabama and Florida downstream of Atlanta.
Contrary to armchair legal scholars who dismiss our case, there is a litany of legal justification for Georgia’s claim, should it come to litigation. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on five state border disputes in the past 15 years and hundreds since the founding of our country. The facts and the law are on the side of Georgia. If the Supreme Court follows its own precedent, Georgia will win.
Because Georgia never ceded its right to the disputed land and both parties acknowledge the 35th parallel is the true border, Tennessee is in violation of Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution by claiming a portion of another state as its own. Unlike general property law, the concept of “adverse possession” — claiming land so long that it eventually becomes yours — does not apply to governments.
Tennessee also has weakened its hand through its own legal history, initiating a settlement with Mississippi and changing the border to the 35th parallel.
Today, most of the Memphis International Airport resides within the once disputed territory.
If the argument worked for Tennessee to change the border with Mississippi to the 35th parallel, then the same argument will work for Georgia to change the border with Tennessee. In other words, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
These reasons, as well as countless other justifications and precedents, are more than enough rationale for both parties to resolve this amicably.
Many will also recall that Robert Frost also famously wrote about the road less travelled. C’mon Tennessee, how about you do what’s right? It could make all the difference for your neighbors.
Brad Carver is the senior director for government affairs with Hall Booth Smith and an author of “Tapping the Tennessee River at Georgia’s Northwest Corner: A Solution to North Georgia’s Water Supply Crisis.”