Georgia Wants Part of Tennessee

A resolution introduced into the Georgia State Senate aims to move the state's border one mile north into Tennessee, based on a 200-year-old surveying error. The law would give drought-stricken Georgia access to the Tennessee River, explains surveyor Bart Crattie — force one Billy Gouger to live in Tennessee.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Alison?

ALISON STEWART, host:

Yes?

MARTIN: They are fighting down in Georgia and Tennessee.

STEWART: Oh, no. Over what?

MARTIN: Water and borders.

STEWART: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: As the state faces an historic drought, Georgia, the state senator there, David Shafer, has introduced a bill to move the state line a mile north into Tennessee, which will then give Georgians access to the Tennessee River. And they need that water. Georgia's claim to the land goes back to a faulty survey of the border between the states almost 200 years ago. And Shafer says it's never too late to right a wrong.

While some see the proposal as a little more than political grandstanding, it was cosponsored by all of Georgia's 56 state senators, and people are talking serious on both sides of the border.

In a couple of minutes, we'll talk to Billy Gouger, a lifelong Tennessean who would become a Georgian if the border moved. But first, let's hear from land surveyor Bart Crattie. He may have started the whole debate back in October when the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper published an op-ed piece by Crattie, blaming an ages-old surveying error for the border confusion.

Hi, Bart.

Mr. BART CRATTIE (Land Surveyor): Hello. How are you?

MARTIN: Doing well, thanks. Hey, first of all, let's talk about this border error. This started back - way back, 1796, when the U.S. Congress established the state of Tennessee. And Georgia had already been a state. It had been a state for about eight years. How was the border determined back then?

Mr. CRATTIE: Well, they had some old equipment that was kind of faulty. And they had some charts that were faulty. And they used the heavens, the stars, to try to establish what's known as the 35th parallel of latitude.

MARTIN: And the state, for some reason, the border had to be on the 35th Parallel, who decided that had to happen?

Mr. CRATTIE: That was just an act of Congress when they established the state of Tennessee.

MARTIN: Okay. So they were using kind of antiquated equipment. The mathematician who measured the border, James…

Mr. CRATTIE: Worked for Georgia.

MARTIN: …worked for Georgia, James Camak was his name, apparently had better instruments. If he had better instruments rather, would Georgia not be in the drought today. I mean, this - would that really be preventing the drought if Georgia had access to the Tennessee River?

Mr. CRATTIE: Well, it wouldn't prevent the drought, but it'd give them access to the river, because the 35th parallel is in the river.

MARTIN: And you wrote this piece back in the fall. Were you surprised when the resolution to move the border came up in the Senate?

Mr. CRATTIE: Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely.

MARTIN: Why - are people really taking this seriously?

Mr. CRATTIE: Oh, they are. Yes, they have to. It's a serious situation down here.

MARTIN: But, I mean, isn't there some kind of ownership law that says, you know, this is the way the borders have been for a long, long time, and you can't just go namby-pamby changing them based on miscalculations that were made a long time ago with bad equipment?

Mr. CRATTIE: Exactly. Exactly. And it's hard to say what courts would say, but I think there's plenty of precedent that it will not be moved. I can't see it happening, really.

MARTIN: And are - what is the argument that the people who are in favor of this, what are they saying - what are they using as an argument for why the border should be changed?

Mr. CRATTIE: Well, he - Senator Shafer, he just basically says that he's not changing it. He's saying all he's done is putting it where it always has been, and that is the 35th parallel. But it's not the line that's been recognized all these years.

MARTIN: As…

Mr. CRATTIE: He says it's always been the 35th parallel, so he's not changing anything. Now, that's his argument.

MARTIN: As a surveyor, as someone who takes that job seriously, it's important work. You're establishing borders. What's your opinion about this? Should it stand where the original surveyors said it was, even though it's a mistake, should that just stand? Or are you willing to say, okay, maybe they made a mistake - they were using bad equipment - and it should be on the 35th parallel?

Mr. CRATTIE: It would set a horrible precedent for real property law and private individuals. You'd - Lord, if you started changing property lines, just - it'd be chaos. It'd be chaos.

MARTIN: So you mentioned there is - is there precedent that would allow this to go through, that the change could actually happen?

Mr. CRATTIE: None that I'm aware of.

MARTIN: None that you're aware of. And…

Mr. CRATTIE: And I'm not an attorney. That's more of a legal question than a surveyor question.

MARTIN: And as a lifelong Tennessean, what's your opinion on this? Would you be upset? Would your state pride be affronted if this change were to go ahead?

Mr. CRATTIE: Ah, I don't - I wouldn't - I haven't even thought about that. I wouldn't really have an opinion one way or the other.

MARTIN: Well, Bart, thank you very much. Bart Crattie is a surveyor, a lifelong Tennessean, wrote an op-ed piece a while back blaming an ages-old surveying error for the border confusion between Tennessee and Georgia. Hey, Bart, thanks very much.

Mr. CRATTIE: Thank you.

MARTIN: We do want to check with someone who's home is, for now, in Tennessee. Billy Gouger is a current Tennessean. Thanks for joining us this morning.

Mr. BILLY GOUGER: Good morning.

MARTIN: Good morning. So can you tell us where about you live in Tennessee?

Mr. GOUGER: I live about approximately 300 yards south of the Tennessee River. I'm about a mile from the Georgia line right now, almost at the exact location of the corner between Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.

MARTIN: So were you aware of this border issue before it got all into the local court system?

Mr. GOUGER: I was, yes.

MARTIN: What did you know about it?

Mr. GOUGER: Well, there was an article in the Chattanooga paper, I think, that came out after the Atlanta newspaper article came out. And it's been an ongoing issue, this water situation, I guess, between the Chattanooga area and the Atlanta area for a couple of years now.

MARTIN: Well, how are things in your area in terms of water?

Mr. GOUGER: Oh, we're fine where we are in the valley. But our mountain areas here have drought problems much like what Atlanta is experiencing, but on a smaller scale.

MARTIN: Now, when you first read about this or you heard about this, and you go, well, okay, so this is not been right for about 200 years. Did you ever think it would get this far?

Mr. GOUGER: Not really. I heard Mr. Crattie's comments there about the legal precedent, and I have to agree with that. And I'm also aware that the line, when it was originally set between Tennessee and Georgia at least in the area where we live here, it was actually set by agreement of all the parties.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GOUGER: So, you know, this notion that the 35th Parallel controls and it could be moved based on that, I think is sort of a non-issue, because I would see it as a boundary line agreement that was made between the states about 200 years ago.

MARTIN: All right. Well, let's think about this in the bigger picture. What would change for you if the border indeed had to be moved?

Mr. GOUGER: Well, if it moves in accordance with what they have proposed, I would become a Georgia resident. My house would to be in Georgia instead of Tennessee, and that creates several issues for me. I work as our country attorney, now I can no longer do that if I don't live in the county. And it would also present some issues I'd have to deal with as an attorney by not being a resident of Tennessee. So…

MARTIN: With the bar you mean? Would you have to…

Mr. GOUGER: Yes. I would have to - you can be a member of the bar and be a nonresident, but you have to go through some additional steps in order to do that. And I'm a lifelong resident of Tennessee, as Mr. Crattie is, never lived anywhere else. So that would present some issues for me.

MARTIN: Well, I can kind of hear in your voice you really don't want to be anything else but a Tennessean.

Mr. GOUGER: No, I'd prefer to stay in Tennessee if its my choice. So…

MARTIN: Are there time zone issues as well?

Mr. GOUGER: There are. Marion County where we are is actually on Central Time. We're right on the line between Eastern Time and Central Time.

MARTIN: Would you have property issues there, without being too personal?

Mr. GOUGER: Yeah, I think I would.

STEWART: Mm-hmm. Now, Georgia Senator David Shafer said the area north of the border - this is his quote - "Most of it's national forest, anyway. There are very few people who live in the area." Does he have a point, or is he mistaken there?

Mr. GOUGER: I think he's somewhat mistaken there. There are parts of that area that would be mountain land and forested areas, but there are other parts that are fairly heavily populated, such as where I live.

STEWART: So why hasn't this issue been addressed before, Billy? What do you think?

Mr. GOUGER: I just don't think it's been an issue before. I think this is an attempt, and it's admittedly a creative attempt, to try to resolve the water situation that Georgia's experiencing, and I have to give them credit. It's pretty creative.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: "Creative" in quotes - I know what you mean. That's an interesting answer, when people say that. If this actually happens, what are you going to do?

Mr. GOUGER: Well, if it actually happened, I would have to move, I think. I'd have to relocate back into Tennessee and to Marion County if I wanted to maintain the life that I've been maintaining for the last 20 years or so.

STEWART: Billy Gouger, thanks a lot for joining us. Billy is, for the time being, a resident of Marion County, Tennessee, near the border of Georgia.

Mr. GOUGER: Thank you.

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