Will Okefenokee Swamp be Governor Kemp’s conservation victory or Georgia’s defeat?

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Of Georgia’s seven natural wonders, only one has become globally transcendent, attracting millions of visitors from around the world: Okefenokee Swamp. By providing refuge for wildlife, recreation for people, and millions of dollars for local communities, the Okefenokee has provided Georgia with immeasurable value, while anchoring the state’s outdoor tourism economy. .

With a proposed mine along its edge, now is the time for the state of Georgia to return the favor by once again protecting the swamp and its inhabitants.

In the 1990s, DuPont attempted to mine the Trail Ridge, the geological formation that supports the Okefenokee. Few, if any, projects in Georgia’s history have garnered greater opposition. After deeming mining a “very serious threat”, the Georgia Board of Natural Resources opposed the operations. Governor Zell Miller sent a similar message, as did the US Department of the Interior and US Senator Max Cleland.

After DuPont scrapped the project due to unprecedented opposition, no one thought any company would have the audacity – contempt of public opinion – to try again. None, that is, until a handful of corporate executives created Twin Pines Minerals LLC, an Alabama-based company designed to accomplish what DuPont could not.

For Twin Pines Minerals, the DuPont saga proved instructive. Where DuPont started big, offering the entire acreage up front, Twin Pines started small, carving up its larger business into smaller projects and locating the former as far away from the swamp as possible.

This common tactic, known as illegal segmentation, obscures the full scope of a project until after the first and most difficult set of permits is obtained. With its property adjoining Swamp Perimeter Road, operations would eventually have to be within 400 feet of the Okefenokee itself.

Citizens of Madison County, whose air and waters have been poisoned by burning creosote-soaked railroad ties, have urged Charlton County residents and commissioners not to trust Twin leaders pines. In Florida, Twin Pines has committed a slew of mining violations, and its chairman — in his capacity along with other companies — has been linked to violations throughout the Southeast. More recently, Twin Pines opened its Charlton County plant without obtaining the necessary approval.

Given such transgressions, it would be foolish to reward Twin Pines with mining permits near Georgia’s most valuable natural asset. The Okefenokee is extremely large and fragile, and a one-of-a-kind resource. It only needs to be damaged once to be diminished forever.

If there is mining, it is not a question of if these impacts will occur, but when and to what extent. In the best-case scenario, significant wetlands will be destroyed, with miners eventually consuming around 6,000 football pitches, just yards from the swamp. If the fears of 45 scientists (including some of Georgia’s top researchers) come true, the operations could harm Okefenokee’s ability to sustain itself.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has also made a strong case against the Twin Pines project, warning of potentially permanent damage to its property, increased wildfires and impacts on species at risk.

In testimony to this universal concern, two former cabinet members, three USFWS directors, and two Georgian commissioners from the Department of Natural Resources spoke out against the project. Additionally, more than 100,000 people have commented, including from surrounding towns, with around 60,000 submissions already sent to Georgian regulators. Even Chemours, an international mining entity, has given up any interest in buying the project from Twin Pines.

State lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike introduced legislation this year banning the issuance of mining permits along Trail Ridge near Okefenokee. While the bill failed to pass in the 2022 session, the bipartisan leadership group is reacting to the backlash against dangerous mining. The sponsors of the bill have indicated that they still intend to permanently protect the Okefenokee, creating a historic opportunity whose ramifications will be felt for generations.

Twin Pines’ interest and investment in southeast Georgia will not last. But the Okefenokee will remain, and so will the communities that depend on its well-being. Entrusting the fate of the swamp and its inhabitants to an alien company and a known bad actor would be a gamble with the highest stakes.

We must not let up on our efforts to protect the Okefenokee from mining. Contact Governor Brian Kemp hereand state regulators to [email protected]

Ask them to protect Georgia, as heads of state did decades ago, by simply rejecting permits for this dangerous project.

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