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Georgia’s Three Rs

June 29, 2011

And I don’t mean readin’, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.  David Ralston – Georgia’s Speaker of the House – proposed a roads, rails, and rivers pitch to our northern neighbor earlier this summer.  Ralston – undoubtedly with Governor Nathan Deal’s support – has gone softer on Tennessee then some of his predecessors.  Rather than threaten to drag two states into court over a nineteenth century surveyor’s error that put the Tennessee River out of Georgia’s riparian reach, Ralston wants to “think outside of the box.”  Here is Jim Galloway’s quick-take in the AJC and one from Chattanooga’s Times-Free Press.

Ralston argues that Georgia has what Chattanooga needs: a Savannah River-Atlantic port, existing interstate highways, and an existing freight rail system that can move automotive supplies for the east Tennessee’s new Volkswagen plant.  To sweeten the deal, Ralston has suggested a passenger rail system that could connect Chattanooga’s underutilized domestic airport with Atlanta’s busy international gateway.

No word on financing, but consider the following.  Perhaps Ralston thinks allying with Tennessee might help provide another avenue to save the Savannah harbor’s dredging project from “sinking” in Washington’s anti-earmark atmosphere and due to local environmental concerns?  Perhaps a Three Rs pact might make it easier for Georgia to “get its act together” on high speed rail and accept federal rail-dollars rejected by conservative administrations elsewhere?

What really drives Ralston’s Three Rs?  The Tennessee River, metro Atlanta’s thirst, and the fact that Georgia needs to put more water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin.  I’ve laid out the problems with this IBT in previous posts.  Ralston has presented a false choice involving a major interbasin transfer (IBT) that Governor Bill Haslam has previously rejected outright, that will seriously affect the Tennessee Valley Authority’s operational mandates, and that Georgia’s 2009 Water Contingency Task Force called “highly contentious” (and expensive; over $2 billion to build and $98 million to operate).  Plus, Tennessee River stakeholders and downstream communities are also paying attention to this expensive structural solution to the region’s water woes.  As such, talking about a Tennessee River IBT will always be just that – talk.  And given the recent 11th Circuit Court opinion on the tri-state water wars, perhaps a Tennessee River IBT now has diminished value?  More to come on that court decision.

-Chris Manganiello

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