Okefenokee Bill Clears Georgia House

Dave Williams

Wednesday, March 27th, 2024

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Legislation declaring a three-year moratorium on the type of mining being planned near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge sailed through the Georgia House Tuesday.

House lawmakers passed the bill 167-4, marking the first action the General Assembly has taken on plans to mine titanium along Trail Ridge in Charlton County. An earlier bill has been bottled up in a House committee for two years despite boasting more than 90 cosponsors in the 180-member House.

Under the bill that passed Tuesday, the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) would not accept applications for dragline surface mining permits of heavy sands minerals for three years. That’s the mining technique and type of minerals contemplated by Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals (TPM) in its plan to mine titanium oxide near the swamp.

The EPD has issued draft mining permits to Twin Pines last month for a 700-plus-acre demonstration site, the first step toward opening an 8,000-acre strip mine along the southeastern border of the swamp.

The project has drawn intense opposition from local governments in southeastern Georgia and environmental advocates, citing scientific studies showing the mine would damage one of the largest intact freshwater wetlands in North America by drawing down its water level.

But on Tuesday, state Rep. John Corbett, R-Lake Park, the bill’s chief sponsor, cited other studies predicting the mine would not significantly affect water levels in the Okefenokee.

Corbett also argued that “rare earth elements” including titanium oxide are used in nuclear fuel rods, making them critical to national security.

He and other supporters of the bill said the three-year moratorium would allow time for more research into the mine’s potential impacts on the swamp and allow emotions over the project to subside.

“This bill … is a good opportunity for a cooling-off period,” said Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway.

Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, said the three-year moratorium is better than doing nothing and allowing the mine to move forward with the permitting process.

“It’s all we’ve got,” she said. “This is the only thing that will let us slow it down and figure out some way to save the swamp.”

But Josh Marks, an environmental attorney and president of Georgians for the Okefenokee, said the new bill accomplishes nothing to protect the Okefenokee.

 “The ‘moratorium’ only lasts for three years, and TPM has already said it would wait the four years its demonstration project will take to be completed before filing new permits,” he said.

“But most importantly, it serves as a distraction to the urgent effort to expose the threat posed by TPM’s current permit application, which the scientific community and general public have universally condemned.”