HAHIRA — Environmental groups, including the Suwannee Riverkeeper and the WWALS Watershed Coalition, have sent a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp asking him to stop the proposed titanium strip mine from being allowed within a few miles of the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia and north Florida.

The letter, which lays out evidence to support the groups’ request, states: “Georgia is all that stands between a titanium strip mine within a few miles of the Okefenokee Swamp, proposed by coal miners from Alabama. Please direct the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to thoroughly examine the five state permit applications from Twin Pines Minerals. The evidence indicates DNR should reject those applications. At the least, an environmental review equivalent to an Environmental Impact Statement should be conducted.”

Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman said the letter to Kemp was a vital last resort.

“We’re asking everyone else to ask Georgia to stop this strip mine too near the Okefenokee Swamp, so it was time to send a letter to Gov. Kemp,” Quarterman said.

The letter says, in part:

“Dear Governor Kemp and staff,

“Thank you again for being the first governor to visit Hahira since Jimmy Carter; it was good to speak with you there. Last year, you sent a staff delegate to the Georgia Water Coalition meeting. For the second year running, the Okefenokee Swamp is on GWC’s Dirty Dozen worst threats to Georgia waters, because of a threatened mine.

“The 60,000 people who wrote to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers against that mine are still opposed, despite the Corps’ abdicating its oversight.

“As the largest blackwater swamp east of the Mississippi, the Okefenokee is a state, national, and international treasure, supporting 750 jobs and bringing more than $60 million of income through entrances at the Okefenokee NWR near Folkston, Okefenokee Swamp Park near Waycross, and Stephen C. Foster State Park near Fargo, plus hunting on private land nearby. Any change in water level or quality would affect the whole swamp, the Suwannee and St. Marys rivers, which flow from it, and the underlying Floridan Aquifer, from which all of south Georgia and north Florida drinks.”

The letter reminds the governor that he signed a law to stop railroad ties from being burned at a biomass plant promoted by the current president of the company that wants to strip mine. It notes that the same company is still under a Florida Consent Order, and spilled wastewater during Hurricane Irma.

The letter asks for an accounting of Twin Pines’ plan to prevent spills during hurricanes, including of slimes (tiny particles of clay and titanium dioxide that can foul the gills of fish) and mercury that came by air from coal power plants? Where is its plan to keep wastewater from getting into the Floridan Aquifer or from lowering the aquifer and swamp levels?

At least one elected official is already involved, and all should be, especially during this runoff election season:

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, responding to an inquiry by Sen. (David) Perdue, noted that after the initial demonstration site, mining would move closer to the swamp, ending up within 400 feet of the swamp and a half-mile from the refuge,” the letter noted.

As is often the case, this environmental issue is also a private property rights issue.

“Private property rights are also at risk,” Quarterman said. “TPM on its Corps and Georgia mining applications claimed as part of its project land owned by TIAA, the Fortune 100 financial services company. TPM only retracted that claim after TIAA complained. TPM then said it was negotiating with TIAA, which TIAA denies. Apparently penalties for false application could be up to a $10,000 fine or five years in prison.”

The letter to the governor added, as a bottom line:

“Ingle and TPM have experimented more than enough already with our air and waters. They should not be permitted to do so again, especially not next to the Okefenokee Swamp.

“The Okefenokee Swamp is of special concern to Suwannee Riverkeeper, since almost all of the Okefenokee Wilderness Area Canoe Trails that people paddle to fish and to see birds, alligators, bears, and cypress trees, are in the Suwannee River Basin. We just camped at Floyd’s Island a few weeks ago. Those animals and plants and the swamp and the Suwannee and the aquifer cannot speak for themselves, so we write to you for them, as well as in support of the economy of Georgia (and Florida).

“I urge you and the state of Georgia to thoroughly examine the permit applications from Twin Pines Minerals. I believe the state will find the evidence supports rejecting those permits.”

The rest of the letter, including a link to a PDF version, links to the evidence, and how everyone, no matter where they live, can ask Georgia to stop this strip mine, can be found at https://wwals.net/?p=54187.

Founded in June 2012, WWALS Watershed Coalition Inc. advocates for conservation and stewardship of the Withlacoochee, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Little, Santa Fe, and Suwannee River watersheds in south Georgia and north Florida through education, awareness, environmental monitoring, and citizen activities.

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