Georgia Border Dispute

Several news outlets have highlighted a resolution proposed by Rep. Harry Geisinger of the Georgia General Assembly’s House of Representatives that would seek to move the Georgia border 1.1 miles further north. This has received coverage on both sides of the border from reputable publications such at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (“Border war with Tennessee gets serious“) and the Chattanooga Times Free Press (“Tennesseans won’t volunteer for Georgia citizenship“). Serious issues and repercussions lay beneath the surface even though many observers dismiss this situation somewhat humorously with a smile and a smirk.

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Much of Georgia experienced a drought of historic proportions through much of 2007. Major reservoirs such as Lanier and Allatoona began to empty, imperiling the water needs of a parched Atlanta. Extreme to exceptional drought with little relief is now expected through the Summer of 2008. By nudging it border north just a tiny bit further, Georgia would be able to tap into the tremendous volume of the Tennessee River at an artificial lake, the Nickajack Reservoir.

Georgia House Resolution 1206 laid out a case that the border is supposed to run along the 35th parallel but was marked incorrectly by a flawed 1818 survey that relied on the imprecise technology available at the time. Georgia further claimed that attempts have been made over the years to rectify the situation but that it has never been adequately resolved. It then calls for boundary commissions to work towards establishing an accurate border both with Tennessee and North Carolina.

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In addition to water access, this border adjustment would result in the creation of 40,000 new Georgia residents, with 30,000 coming from Tennessee. More than $2 billion worth of land and property would be carved from Hamilton County, Tennessee alone, including entire Chattanooga suburbs. Logically, Tennessee is opposed to the resolution and has responded rather forcefully in a resolution of their own. They are relying on the doctrine of “adverse possession.” Basically the border has existed this way so long that it’s become the true border in spite of the 35th parallel. Many Tennesseans consider this an assault on their sovereignty for the sake of what they considered irresponsible, uncontrolled sprawl and growth in Atlanta.

There are greater implications beyond Georgia and Tennessee. As populations continue to grow and as competition for resources increase, the battle over water rights long characteristic of the American West have begun to march to the East.