BY JAMISON GUICE

A bill to ban mining near the Okefenokee Swamp was formally introduced last Tuesday, February 8, during Georgia’s General Assembly. The bill includes six sponsors ranging from Southeast representatives in Savannah to Junction City near Macon.

It is sponsored by a bipartisan group which includes Georgia Reps. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), Don Hogan (R-St. Simon’s Island), Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) and Jan Tankersley (R-Brooklet). It aims to prevent future surface mining permits along Trail Ridge between the St. Marys and Satilla Rivers.

If passed, the bill would “prohibit the director of the Environmental Protection Division of the Natural Resources Department from issuing, modifying, or renewing any permit or accepting any bond to conduct surface mining operations on the geological feature known as Trail Ridge between the St. Marys and Satilla Rivers for future permit applications and amendments.” The bill goes on to say that the Okefenokee Swamp is of vital importance and its preservation is a state-wide concern, and the Trail Ridge is an essential formation in the swamp as it “shapes the hydrology of the area and controls drainage of the swamp to the Atlantic Ocean.” More can be read on it at https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/61907.

The bill’s introduction had impeccable timing as on that very same day, Gov. Brian Kemp declared February 8 to be Okefenokee Swamp Day. The proclamation recognizes the ecological and cultural significance of the blackwater system, citing the swamp as a blessing to the State of Georgia with its unrivaled beauty.

Additionally, the mining permit filed by Twin Pines Minerals, LLC currently lies in the boundaries outlined in the bill. The permit is still under review by the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) as it proposes a heavy mineral sand mine. House Bill 1289 would not prevent the corporation’s mine application from finalizing as it has already been received, but it would prevent the EPD from issuing new permits or amending existing ones.

The project’s permits have drawn statewide and even national opposition on the basis that it could negatively affect the swamp in years to come.

Alice Keyes, vice president of One Hundred Miles’ coastal conservation, explains that if passed, the house bill “would send a resounding message that the Okefenokee is part of our, heritage, identity and a tremendous source of pride—a message that can be used to encourage across the region more sustainable economic opportunities that are less risky than mining.”

While the permit has mixed reviews, it holds the potential to bring jobs to Charlton County.

The Board of Commissioners signed the proclamation of support back in 2019 where it claims that the operation will bring an estimated 150 “high-paying jobs with benefits.” County administrator Hampton Raulerson stated the board will continues its support as long as Twin Pines can meet its permitting requirements - which is also stated in the proclamation.

Hampton commented that the representatives who not directly Charlton County should allow the EPD to continue their work in determining the safety and validity of the mining proposal instead of preempting their ability to do so.

Georgia citizens can email their senator and representatives with questions and concerns at https://georgia.gov/state-legislators.