Hello, Charlton County. I am one of your downstream neighbors on the St. Marys River. We have heard that a mining company named Twin Pines Minerals LLC wants to dig up nearly 19 square miles of Trail Ridge next to the Okefenokee Swamp to make more paint for all of us.
Now paint is an important thing, and I’m all for it, but the Okefenokee is world famous. Among other things, it is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia, it is a National Natural Landmark, it is the largest blackwater swamp in North America, and it has the distinction of being named a Wetland of International Importance and a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The 438,000-acre Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and Okefenokee Wilderness has brought you (and us, your downstream neighbor) 600,000 visitors a year, generating $64 million in local economic output and supports over 700 local jobs. You don’t have to do a thing, but protect it. It has been there for more than 6,000 years and should maintain itself nicely for several thousand more.
But the paint-minded folks want to dredge up about an acre a day, down to 70 feet, withdraw up to 4 million gallons of water daily from the imperiled Floridan aquifer, (Charlton County currently withdraws only about 1.2 mgd), threaten endangered species, discharge sediments and pollutants into the St. Marys River (which I, your downstream neighbor, will get), and risk damaging beyond repair your greatest asset. Twin Pines has claimed they won’t harm anything and will return everything to its former pristine status, but they have not shown proof they know how to do that. In fact, their president, Steve Ingles, says it’s our job to prove they will harm the environment.
What will you get in return for this risk? Apparently some 150 temporary jobs (at maximum output) over the course of 30 years. That’s it. That’s all they’re offering. In the words of former Secretary of the interior Bruce Babbitt, “Titanium is a common mineral, while the Okefenokee is a very uncommon swamp.” Do you really want to risk that?