LEGISLATIVE PREVIEW: State Rep. Harry Geisinger focuses on water rights, horse racing

Wants to tap Tennessee River, legalize pari-mutuel betting in Ga.



ROSWELL, Ga. – State Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-48, said in the 2013 session of the General Assembly he wants to clear up a nearly 200-year-old boundary dispute with Tennessee and allow pari-mutuel betting that would bring thousands of jobs to Georgia’s horse industry.

One of the bills he has ready for consideration would address the ongoing water crisis with Florida and Alabama. The second would tap into an already strong horse racing industry and bring tax revenue and jobs to the state.

In Georgia’s search for a solution to the lack of water and the resultant effects that has on the state’s growth, attention has been turned northward to the Tennessee River. That has long been recognized as an underused resource Georgia might tap into, but convincing the Tennessee state legislature is not easy.

With the discovery that Georgia’s long-ago border should have been on the north side of the Tennessee River at the northwestern tip of the state, Georgia legislators have said here’s the answer. The question is how to get Tennessee to agree and spare a long court fight in the U.S. Supreme Court?

Geisinger says the issue began when Georgia ceded the Mississippi Territory to the United States in 1818. The northern border of Georgia and the southern border of the state of Tennessee were established at the 35th parallel of north latitude and would have been located on the northernmost bank of the Tennessee River at Nickajack.

But the survey was flawed, with the surveyors putting the marker 1.5 miles too far south. Geisinger says “Indian problems” with the Cherokees at the time may have deterred the surveyors from poking around to get the marker to the correct point but hastily put it up and got out of the area.

Whatever the reason, the language is clear as to where the marker should have been. Geisinger’s bill would not ask for the return of the land except for 1.5 square miles of the 50 square miles involved.

This would cede Georgia enough land to tap the Tennessee River. The remaining 40-50 square miles in dispute would be ceded to Tennessee. Geisinger says the law is on Georgia’s side, but it would be a long sticky settlement in the Supreme Court.

For that reason, he thinks Tennessee will agree.

“We’re trading all of the land in dispute except for 1.25 square miles that would allow us access to water from Lake Nickajack.

Lake Nickajack has 24 billion gallons of daily flow through it. Tennessee has been forced to build dams at Nickajack and below to check and manage the potential flooding from the enormous flow of the river annually.

“The [Tennessee Valley Authority] did a study that said [Georgia] could take 1 billion gallons a day out of Nickajack and it wouldn’t be missed,” Geisinger said.

He proposes a settlement of the dispute that would continue allocation of water to the Tennessee-Tom Bigbee Waterway (popularly known as the Tenn-Tom) that flows from the Tenneesse River through Alabama. Thus, all three states would be guaranteed the flow they need.

But it would allow Georgia to withdraw a share (up to 1 billion gallons) and leave Tennessee with a water resource of 23 billion gallons a day. That would still be around 15 times greater than that of the Chattahoochee River, he said.

“This is the future of Georgia. Without water, we don’t go anywhere. Businesses will stop coming, people will stop coming,” Geisinger said.

Geisinger is also bringing up again the issue of pari-mutuel betting and racing in Georgia. This would bring 5,000 jobs to Georgia and millions of dollars through tourism just in the first few years.

“It’s jobs and revenue,” he said. “There would be farm jobs, track jobs, restaurant jobs, executive jobs – all kinds of jobs that you could think of. This is a jobs-creating bill.”

Geisinger noted tourism is the No. 2 contributor to Georgia’s economy behind agriculture. This would especially benefit the equestrian farms and associated businesses of North Fulton, Cherokee and even South Fulton, he said.

In Kentucky, horse racing produces $4 billion annually. Georgia would not approach that in the beginning, but Geisinger notes that there are no horse racing tracks between Kentucky and south Florida, and you have to go as far west as Louisiana to find racing.

With Atlanta’s tourism amenities, Georgia would be a prime location for the horse racing community to come.

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