For nearly 200 years, Georgia and Tennessee have been disputing the location of their border.
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 in the correct place.
Flowing through the Tennessee River are more than 1.6 billion gallons 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 1 billion gallons of excess capacity each day. Just half of that daily excess would meet all of metro Atlanta’s water needs for the next 100 years.
Georgia has been disputing its border with Tennessee since 1818, when a flawed survey improperly sited the line one mile south of the mutually agreed upon border at the 35th parallel. Georgia never accepted the survey; Tennessee did and has since rebuffed or ignored 10 different attempts by Georgia to solve 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. Controlling access to the river gives Tennessee an economic advantage. Without access to the river, Atlanta might eventually dry up.
H.R. 4 is a good-faith effort to avoid litigation. This 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.
This resolution spares both sides a contentious legal battle, one with the odds stacked against our northern neighbors. Additionally, it helps prevent chronic flooding in the Tennessee River valley and provides extra water to Georgia, Alabama and Florida. This is truly a regional solution to the Southeast’s water troubles.
Contrary to arm-chair 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.
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. 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. Its state legislature passed resolutions in 1889 and 1905 claiming “grave doubts” about the current border with Georgia. The “grave doubts” argument was used at that time to initiate a settlement with Mississippi and change that border to the 35th parallel. Today, Memphis International Airport resides in what was once Mississippi.
Let’s solve this problem together and leave the battles for the football field.