CommonFuture

CommonFuture

Okefenokee: Just say ‘No mine’

By David Pendered

Sept. 15 – The Georgia Water Coalition is trying to insert the proposed mine near the Okefenokee Swamp into the November gubernatorial campaign via a letter-writing campaign based on a survey released Thursday that shows a solid majority of Georgians oppose the mine.

The coalition has launched an online campaign targeting the gubernatorial candidates, Gov. Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams, and the four candidates for lieutenant governor. The coalition has posted survey results and the form letter on its website and they are available here.

The first lines suggested by the form letter state: “The iconic Okefenokee Swamp is at risk. Protecting this vast wilderness area should be a top priority for Georgia’s next Governor and Lt. Governor.”

The Georgia Water Coalition is trying to inject into the gubernatorial and lieutenant governor races the proposal to mine sand from a site near the Okefenokee Swamp. (Credit: gawater.org)

Next is space for a personal message, followed by this suggested closure: “Please do everything in your power to ensure this vital area is protected. We are counting on you.”

The results of a telephone survey, released Thursday, show opposition to the mine was reported at 60% to 62% in four regions of the state – metro Atlanta, and North, Central and South Georgia.

Opposition to the mine was voiced by a majority of all ages of whites, Blacks, men, women, Republicans, Democrats and independents.

These top line results came in response to this question:

  • “An out-of-state corporation is proposing to mine titanium sands adjacent to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Scientists are concerned that this proposal threatens the Okefenokee Swamp, while consultants for the mining company say it will not harm it or the surrounding watershed. Knowing that, do you support or oppose the proposal to mine next to the Okefenokee Swamp?”

The survey was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy, with offices in Washington and Jacksonville, Fl. Live interviews were conducted, by cell phone or land line, of 625 registered voters from Sept. 6 through Sept. 8. Quotas were assigned to reflect voter registration by county.

The margin of error was reported to be plus/minus 4%. The margin of error is amplified among subgroups because of the smaller proportion of voters in a given group.

The proposed mine is intended to extract sands that contain a valuable mineral from land near the southeastern border of the swamp. County commissioners in the area initially supported the mine, citing a few dozen jobs to be created.

Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals LLC is seeking permits that would enable the company to extract from sand the mineral titanium, which has military and industrial uses. The process would entail digging up sand, processing it with water to remove the titanium, and returning the sand to holes from where it had been removed.

Along with potentially influencing the races for governor and lieutenant governor, the results could inform the ongoing discussions among federal and state officials who are reviewing applications for the surface mine.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division, part of the state Department of Natural Resources, is reviewing applications for soil and water permits. EPD has established a website to serve as a central clearinghouse of information about the process. The most recent update was Aug. 23, following a decision by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps is again involved in the decision-making process. The Corps reinserted itself following a decision during the Trump administration that it had no role in the review process. That decision left the entire affair in the hands of EPD and its influencers in the governor’s office.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Aug. 22 revoked a ruling its top civilian official had issued in June. The ruling required the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to participate in discussions of the proposed permits requested by Twin Pines.

Before that June ruling, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation had no role in the discussion over the use of lands where their ancestors resided. Twin Pines filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the Corps’ ruling and the Corps withdrew the ruling as part of a settlement.

The presence of the Muscogee (Creek) ancestors in the swamp was documented in a in a 1791 travelogue account by William Bartram. The Quaker natural scientist reported lengthy descriptions of the presence in his expansive memoir that chronicles his four-year journey through the Southeast, The Travels of William Bartram.

Stacey Abrams (left) is challenging Gov. Brian Kemp in the 2022 gubernatorial campaign. (Credit: Abrams, campaign photo; Kemp, official photo; compiled by David Pendered)