ATLANTA - Bipartisan legislation to ban mining near the Okefenokee Swamp failed to gain traction in the Georgia House of Representatives this year.
But that didn't stop the House from adopting a nonbinding resolution during the final week of this year's legislative session calling for protecting the Okefenokee as a valuable tourism resource.
The proposed mining ban was prompted by an Alabama-based mining company's plan to mine titanium oxide at a site in Charlton County three miles from the Okefenokee Swamp. Twin Pines Minerals (TPM) is seeking permits from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to move forward with the project.
Scientists and environmental advocates have warned the mine could damage adjacent wetlands and permanently affect the hydrology of the largest black water swamp in North America.
While House Resolution 1158 doesn't mention the mining project by name, lawmakers taking a position on the swamp's importance to the state was important, said Josh Marks, a lawyer with a long history working to protect the Okefenokee.
"The legislative resolution demonstrates, once again, there is broad, bipartisan support for the Okefenokee Swamp and for ensuring it is protected against dangerous threats like that posed by TPM's proposed project," he said. "These collective legislative efforts are reminders to Governor [Brian] Kemp and EPD that the people of Georgia are watching very closely and want EPD to deny TPM's permit applications."
The bill banning mining near the Okefenokee was introduced in February by Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, chairman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee. Republican co-sponsors included Reps. Ron Stephens of Savannah, Jan Tankersley of Brooklet and Jesse Petrea of Savannah - all committee chairs - along with Democratic Rep. Debbie Buckner of Junction City.
Shortly after introducing the bill, Taylor wrote a letter to EPD Director Rick Dunn
"Our effort comes in the aftermath of many public requests including a letter written by over 43 scientists from around Georgia opining that mining on Trail Ridge threatens to irreparably damage the Okefenokee, including the swamp's water level," Taylor wrote. "I request that the permit be denied."
Taylor's bill died without getting a hearing before the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee. The panel's chairman, Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, said at the time the bill was premature while the EPD was still reviewing the permit applications and had yet to open a public comment period.
The same House lawmakers joined in sponsoring the nonbinding resolution, along with Rep. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert.
"In addition to the leadership shown by these legislators, those of us concerned about the swamp are especially encouraged that the independent scientific community is speaking out against the project," Marks said. 'We are hopeful EPD will follow through accordingly."
The EPD is still awaiting revisions to Twin Pines' surface mining permit application and land use plan, agency spokesman Kevin Chambers wrote in an e-mail. However, EPD is currently accepting public comments at TwinPines.Comment@dnr.ga.gov.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.
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