In a classic Southeastern Conference football matchup this weekend, Georgia will meet Tennessee “between the hedges” in Sanford Stadium in Athens.
While this traditional rivalry between the perennial football powers takes place every fall, it won’t be the first matchup between the states this year.
During this past legislative session, two resolutions (SR 822 and HR 1206) were introduced that would essentially move the Georgia-Tennessee state line a mile north to correct an erroneous survey completed in 1818.
How did this happen and why are we trying to correct it now, you might ask.
First of all, when Congress established the state of Tennessee in 1796 it designated its southern boundary, and Georgia’s northern one, as the 35th parallel. In 1818, both states appointed surveyors to establish the boundary between Georgia and Tennessee. Working under a commission from then Gov. William Rabun, a University of Georgia mathematician named James Camak was appointed as Georgia’s surveyor.
Working under extremely difficult conditions, including the threat of hostile Indian tribes in the area, Camak was forced to use substandard equipment to complete his work due to state budget constraints. Using a sextant, a device that measures distance via the stars and is better suited for navigation at sea than boundary-making on land, the Camak stone boundary marker was planted on June 1, 1818.
Years later in 1826, Camak acknowledged that instead of planting the marker 35 degrees north of the equator, it was planted 34.59 degrees north, leaving 51 square miles of Georgia in Tennessee.
In order for the boundaries to be adopted, both state legislatures had to pass statutes ratifying the marked border. While Tennessee’s legislature passed a statue, Georgia did not.
In fact, between 1887 and 1971, Georgia passed eight resolutions calling for Tennessee to correct the error. Tennessee’s own legislature admitted in 1889, 1905 and 1915 that the border was wrong and as late as 1974 the U. S. Court of Appeals ruled that the border survey was still in dispute since Georgia had not ratified the 1818 survey.
The reason this map error is so important to both states can be summed up in one word — water.
At stake here is rights to the nations fifth largest river, the 652-mile long Tennessee River that is fed at least partially by three rivers in Georgia. Moving the border to its correct position one mile north would give Georgia access to more water, a move favored by drought-stricken north Georgia and the water-starved Atlanta area.
During this past Legislative session, Georgia passed a resolution first setting up a joint border commission with Tennessee to settle the dispute. After Tennessee’s legislature voted against the idea, the Georgia legislature voted instead to give the governor the authority to negotiate with Tennessee’s governor regarding the issue.
Although the dispute is serious and both sides are determined to win, it has made for some comical situations during the year.
For instance, during the legislative session this past year, the mayor of Chattanooga sent a truck driven by his aide wearing a Daniel Boone outfit with a coonskin cap and filled with bottled water to Atlanta for “Give Our Georgia Friends a Drink Day.” He also issued a proclamation where he said “the leaders of Georgia have assembled like the Children of Israel in the desert, grumbled among themselves and have begun to cast longing eyes toward the north, coveting their neighbor’s assets.”
One Georgia legislator introduced legislation offering “tax amnesty” to anyone living in the disputed area who wanted to come into Georgia.
And when discussing the issue in the Senate earlier this year, senators broke out in a rendition of “This Land is My Land.”
Regardless of the humor, while Georgia is already involved in lawsuits with Alabama and Florida involving water rights, look for more of the same with Tennessee if this issue is not resolved soon.