By John Schaffner
The Government Affairs Committee of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce invited six Georgia House members to breakfast Aug. 6 to discuss important 2009-10 legislative initiatives. Two no-shows were Dist. 49 Rep. Wendell Willard and Dist. 52 Rep. Joe Wilkinson, who represent the largest areas of Sandy Springs.
One of the major topics of the meeting was what Georgia must do now that a federal judge has ruled Atlanta and other communities will no longer be able to draw their water from Lake Lanier in three years — water that flows down the Chattahoochee River, along the border of Sandy Springs, and provides water for Sandy Springs, the city of Atlanta and parts of DeKalb County.
The four who did show for the meeting at the Sandy Springs headquarters of Ackerman & Co. were Dist. 54 Rep. Ed Lindsey, Dist. 48 Rep. Harry Geisinger, Dist. 49 Rep. Fran Millar and Dist 80 Rep. Mike Jacobs, who all represent parts of Sandy Springs, Buckhead and Brookhaven.
All of the four legislators agreed that the state and local governments, and business and community interests need to work together on several fronts to make sure the spigot does not go dry in three years.
Possibly the most vocal of the four representatives was Geisinger, who strongly supports resolutions in the House and Senate to reclaim land at the 35th parallel in Tennessee, above the Georgia border. He says Georgia never gave up the water rights along and south of that line.
The original northern border of Georgia was to be the 35th parallel, which is 1.1 miles further north than where it is now located.
“The Georgia border is supposed to be on the northern bank of the Tennessee River,” Geisinger claims, and he brought documentation to the meeting to prove it.
Geisinger says Georgia needs to get the border issue straightened out and then “take the water from one basin and take it to another.” He said 1.6 million gallons of water a day flow off of Georgia into the Tennessee River at Nickajack in North Georgia.
Asked how long it would take to put in the infrastructure for the transfer of water from Tennessee to the Atlanta area, he said three to five years from the decision to go ahead.
The vice chair of the Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Committee and member of the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee, pointed out only the U.S. Supreme Court hears boundary disputes.
Rep. Millar, who represents areas of north DeKalb, suggested Georgia needs to work a deal with Tennessee to swap water from the Tennessee River for a second airport located north of Atlanta and a high-speed rail line from Chattanooga to Atlanta.
Rep. Jacobs, who also represents DeKalb, said the state has to come at the issue from every direction. “The Judge got it right on the law,” he said. “As a lawyer, I am concerned what the result of an appeal might be.” He agreed with Geisinger that inter-basin water transfers might be the best solution.
Lindsey said he is often asked if we need to pursue conservation measures or increased capacity. He said his answer is “yes.” He pointed out that 24 percent of the drinking water is used to flush toilets.
All four of the legislators agreed that the state’s budget was going to continue to be the major issue for the remainder of this year and into 2010.
Millar and the others said the state needs to pass a major transportation bill in the next session of the Legislature. Millar said MARTA can’t be what it needs to be with only Fulton and DeKalb counties funding it.
“We need to repeal the current MARTA act and then get it under the state Department of Transportation,” he said. “Fulton and DeKalb will never have a better opportunity than now and MARTA is critical.”