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By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter


The February meeting of the Dade County Water Authority’s board of directors on Friday was brief and singularly lacking in drama. Authority manager Doug Anderton told the board an electric panel at the Lookout Mountain pumping station will probably have to be replaced, but deferred details until later; and there was no news at all of a potential customer lawsuit the threat of which pepped up last month’s proceedings.

Still, life in Dade’s water world is far from humdrum these days as the Georgia legislature once again gears up for a fight with its neighbor across the border for a shot at tapping the Tennessee River – and as Dade County angles for a piece of the action.

“In Tennessee, it’s almost a laughing matter, from what I understand, kind of a joke,” said Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley. “But it’s not a joke to Georgia, it’s serious stuff, and they’ll see, I think, how serious it is.”

Atlanta is projected to run out of water within 20 years, he said, which is pretty serious in itself.

Rumley and Anderton were discussing after the water board meeting the Georgia House of Representatives’ recent resolution in favor of a deal to give up Georgia’s long-standing border dispute with Tennessee in exchange for the right to access a certain portion of Tennessee River water. The Georgia Senate was expected to approve the measure shortly as well, said Rumley.

Rumley wore instead of his usual Friday baseball-cap casual a suit and tie in deference to his date later in the day with a Fox News television crew from Atlanta at the prospective tapping point near the Haletown exit of I-59.

He said that if Tennessee does – also as expected – reject the deal, the dispute would be referred to the federal Supreme Court. “If it goes to the federal court for a decision, I don’t see any way they wouldn’t rule for us,” he said.

That’s because, said Rumley, unlike the border dispute that arose periodically from 2005 through 2009, when Georgia proposed changing the border to correct a 150-year-old surveying error, no Tennessee citizens would be required to become Georgia citizens.

That point aside, he said, Georgia’s claim on the river was pretty straightforward. “The border is what it is,” said Rumley. “There’s no doubt about where the line is. It’s at the center of the river there.”     

Besides, added Anderton, it’s not as if Georgia had no rights on the water flowing in the Tennessee River: “Six percent of the flow of the Tennessee comes right out of Georgia,” he said. “The biggest estimate I’ve seen is that we wouldn’t take more than four percent back.”     

 Furthermore, he added:  “If we could get our water out of the Tennessee River, we could leave Lake Lanier alone, which would solve the Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia dispute.” 

Rumley said Dade could benefit from becoming Atlanta’s conduit from the Tennessee in a number of ways, one of which might be operating the pump station itself. “It would be a big operation but it’s not unreal to do that,” he said.

In any case, he said, moving the water would require a pipeline through the county, which in itself would generate revenue. He explained that TVA pays Dade yearly for the transmission lines that run through it and that the county also receives a big annual check from the railroads.

“There a lot of avenues there for Dade County, or any county it goes through, all the way to Atlanta,” he said.  “But we’re the key to it, because that’s where the actual lift station would be.”

Anderton, the career waterman, added that disputes over water are nothing new, though less common here than in other parts of the country. “East of the Mississippi gets like 80-some percent of the rainfall in the nation, so west of the Mississippi, those guys have had to fight forever for their water over there,” he said.

Questioned later about the issue, John Deffenbaugh, the Dade citizen newly elected to the District 1 Georgia House of Representatives seat, agreed that what was happening legislatively between Georgia and Tennessee was more civil this time. “You can do a lot more with discussion than you can with fighting,” he said.

He said after Georgia’s resolution, and subsequent discussion thereof in the Tennessee House of Representatives, Tennessee House majority leader Gerald McCormick had called to make sure Deffenbaugh wasn’t offended by his comments on the matter.

“It’s the beginning of a conversation,” said Deffenbaugh. “It’s just like dating a girl. You have to date her more than once or twice before you get what you want.”

Which metaphor brings the Sentinel dangerously close to likening the river deal to a big wet kiss, so let us close here before we cascade helplessly over the brink.

The Sentinel will continue faithfully to report on further developments in this matter.

Visitor Comments
Submitted By: Ben Brandon Submitted: 2/20/2013
Unless state officials are willing to go to federal court to settle this issue it will not go any further than it did the last time it surfaced. http://jacksonville.com/apnews/stories/022808/D8V3FAVG2.shtml

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