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Published: Saturday, 3/1/2008

Border dispute all wet

GEORGIA lawmakers recently came up with an idea to help solve its water problems - push the state line a mile north so that it clips a piece of the Tennessee River. As might be expected, however, the plan got a less-than-peachy reception in Tennessee, where legislators responded by calling their southern neighbors names - when they could catch a breath from laughing.

Georgia is in the midst of a drought. Most seriously hit has been Atlanta. The state's largest - and still growing - metropolitan area has essentially outgrown its current fresh-water source, the Chattahoochee River, and so Georgia's Republican-led House and Senate are casting longing glances at the Tennessee, which has about 15 times the flow of the Chattahoochee.

To gain access to the mighty Tennessee, Georgia legislators want to revive a nearly 200-year-old dispute over the location of Georgia's border with the Volunteer state.

It seems that the 1818 survey that was supposed to place said border at the 35th parallel missed the mark, instead locating it 1.1 miles too far south. If the border were moved to where it was originally intended, a bend in the Tennessee River would just cross into a corner of Georgia.

In Tennessee, Rep. Gerald McCormick (R., Chattanooga) called the plan silly, crazy, and an embarrassment to the GOP. "They're idiots," he said of the Georgia Republicans. Other Tennessee officials called the idea "absurd," "laughable," and "a waste of hot air."

It's difficult not to agree.

There are, after all, quite a number of people who live in that narrow strip north of the Georgia border, particularly in East Ridge, Tenn., and a slice of southern Chattanooga. The fact that they and their predecessors have been paying taxes and voting in Tennessee for 190 years has to count for something.

As Tennessee state Rep. Henry Fincher, (D., Cookeville) told the Associated Press, "What this means as a practical matter is Georgia has pretty much lost this case heading out of the gate."

Also, if the U.S. Supreme Court (where the dispute likely would end up) decided in Georgia's favor, Atlanta still might never see a drop of the water because the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers would probably have to sign off.

Finally, surveys aren't exact, conventions change over time, and techniques and equipment have improved over the last two centuries. A positive result for Georgia, therefore, could cast doubt on many state borders across the United States, perhaps including the U.S. border with Canada, and it hardly seems likely that the justices would want to open that can of worms.

Georgia state Sen. David Shafer (R., Duluth), the resolution's sponsor, says it's a "serious effort to secure our border and begin a discussion of water sharing." It's unclear whether his comment came before or after his colleagues began singing "This Land is My Land" in the state Senate.

In any event, we believe this idea should be flushed, provided Georgia can find the water to do it.



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