ATLANTA — Opponents of a proposed titanium mine near the Okefenokee Swamp used the monthly meeting of the Georgia Board of Natural Resources this week to raise concerns about the project.
“We’re talking about one of the greatest treasures of Georgia, one of the most ecologically valuable swamps in the world,” Rhett Jackson, a hydrology professor at the University of Georgia, said during a news conference outside the board meeting site at Stephen C. Foster State Park in Charlton County.
“This is not the place to be doing mining.”
Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals is seeking permits from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to mine titanium dioxide at a site three miles from the swamp.
Jackson said the mining operation would pull water out of the largely rain-fed, drought-sensitive swamp.
“Water levels in the swamp will drop,” he said. “Droughts will become more frequent and more severe.”
Bill Clark, board chairman of the nonprofit Okefenokee Swamp Park near Waycross, said the swamp is too valuable as a tourism resource to risk putting a mine nearby.
Clark said the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is preparing a request to the U.S. Department of the Interior that could lead to the swamp’s selection as the 13th United Nations World Heritage Site in the U.S., a step that would draw tourists from around the world.
“It’s going to be an amazing economic development opportunity for us if this happens,” he said.
The project’s opponents are asking the state Board of Natural Resources to pass a resolution opposing the mine, an action the board took in 1997 that helped stop a titanium mine DuPont was seeking to build near the swamp.
Bipartisan legislation introduced in the General Assembly this year to ban mining near the swamp failed to make it through the Georgia House of Representatives, despite the backing of some of the chamber’s most powerful members.
“The Okefenokee Swamp is a natural gem, unlike any other place on the planet,” state Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, the House bill’s chief sponsor,” said in a statement released this week.
“Its beauty is obvious, but it is the underground water flow, which supports the ecological integrity of the swamp, that is vital and must be protected from [Twin Pines Mineral’s] dangerous project.”
The EPD is still reviewing the company’s permit requests.
A 60-day public comment period and one or more public hearings will follow once a draft land-use plan for the project is completed.