You may have noticed that the Okefenokee has been in the news a lot lately. Last week, the Climate Action Team (CAT) focused its Fun and Easy Activism Zoom meeting on learning the ins and outs of the issue as well as taking positive action to, hopefully, influence our decision makers to make the right choices to protect this delicate ecosystem. In case you weren’t able to join us, below you will find a basic synopsis of the issue at hand as well as some quick and simple actions you can take to make a difference.

The Okefenokee is a unique wetland ecosystem in southeast Georgia that is dependent on steady water level. It is the largest blackwater wetland ecosystem in North America, and the least disturbed freshwater ecosystem on the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Its approximately 400,000 acres are home to over 850 plant species and over 200 bird species as well as over 400 vertebrate species. The eastern edge of the wildlife refuge is bordered by Trail Ridge, which is basically a long wide sand dune that holds the water in the swamp.

An Alabama company, Twin Pines, LLC, is looking to mine Trail Ridge for titanium, which will be used for sunscreens and other products. They have been granted draft permits by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division but the US Fish and Wildlife Service is asserting that the company is prohibited from doing so, providing a delay and giving us an opportunity to make additional comments on the permitting.

You may be wondering why we should be concerned. The problem is that mining the ridge will compromise the sand dune resulting in considerable Okefenokee water loss. The reduction in water levels in the swamp will result in species loss, increase in fires and release of stored carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) from the disturbance of submerged peat.

During this extended time we have been afforded, who are the permit decision makers that we can appeal to? We have an opportunity to submit commentary to both the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and Governor Kemp. We have provided below the specific web pages to submit commentary along with sample comments that you are encouraged to copy and paste, as well as customize with your own personal thoughts and experiences.

First is the Georgia Conservation Voters form comment 3-1-24. There is no word limit to this commentary.

The following three comment options have been provided by CAT’s own Bert Pearce, and he welcomes us all to utilize them and edit them in any way that we think will be effective.

CAT comment option 1 

My name is ____________.  I write to you regarding Twin Pines Minerals’ permit applications for its proposed mine on Trail Ridge, at the edge of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. I urge the Georgia EPD to deny these applications due to the grave threats the mining project poses to the health of the Okefenokee.

This mining proposal has drawn criticism from more than 100 members of Georgia’s faith community and more than 100,000 members of the general public (Georgians with comments). Polling shows that a majority of Georgians want the Okefenokee to be protected. More than half the Georgia House of Representatives cosponsored a bill to ban future mining on Trail Ridge.

My understanding is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service informed Georgia EPD in January of this year that any decision on permitted water withdrawals must take into account federal reserved water rights associated with the refuge. Please ensure that this permitting action does not proceed without consultation with USFWS on required water rights for the Okefenokee.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

CAT comment option 2

My name is ____________.  I write to you regarding Twin Pines Minerals’ permit applications for its proposed mine on Trail Ridge, at the edge of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. I urge the Georgia EPD to deny these applications due to the grave threats the mining project poses to the health of the Okefenokee.

This mining proposal has drawn criticism from more than 100 members of Georgia’s faith community and more than 100,000 members of the general public (Georgians with comments). Polling shows that a majority of Georgians want the Okefenokee to be protected, and more than half the Georgia House of Representatives have cosponsored a bill to ban future mining on Trail Ridge.

In addition, Twin Pines has a record of environmental violations. The company has been cited for Clean Water Act violations in Florida – including unauthorized discharges into wetlands and inadequate mitigation plans. Their owner also manages biomass facilities in rural Georgia that have been cited for violations by EPD.  This company cannot be trusted with stewardship of our precious natural resource, the Okefenokee.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

CAT comment option 3 

My name is ____________.  I write to you regarding Twin Pines Minerals’ permit applications for its proposed mine on Trail Ridge, at the edge of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. I urge the Georgia EPD to deny these applications due to the grave threats the mining project poses to the health of the Okefenokee.

This mining proposal has drawn criticism from more than 100 members of Georgia’s faith community and more than 100,000 members of the general public (Georgians with comments). Polling shows that a majority of Georgians want the Okefenokee to be protected, and more than half the Georgia House of Representatives have cosponsored a bill to ban future mining on Trail Ridge.

In December 2023 the National Park Service was authorized to start the process of nomination of the Okefenokee NWR to the UNESCO World Heritage list.  If nominated and approved as a World Heritage site, the Okefenokee would join the likes of the Statue of Liberty, Grand Canyon National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. These sites are considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.  World Heritage designation should increase both the tourism value and the protection of the Okefenokee. This is one more important reason to deny the Trail Ridge mining permit applications.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

The other option for comment is to Southern Environmental Law Center. This commentary will go to Gov Kemp and Georgia EPD. Comments to Governor Kemp have a word limit so we offer the commentary below:

CAT comment option for Governor Kemp (SHORT)

My name is ____________.  I urge you to direct Georgia EPD to deny Twin Pines Minerals’ mining permit applications due to the grave threats this project poses to the health of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

This mining proposal has drawn criticism from more than 100 members of Georgia’s faith community and more than 100,000 members of the general public (Georgians with comments). Polling shows that a majority of Georgians want the Okefenokee to be protected, and more than half the Georgia House of Representatives have cosponsored a bill to ban future mining on Trail Ridge. Please protect this remarkable treasure that is unique to Georgia!

We hope this helps taking action just a bit easier for you. We welcome your participation in our Fun and Easy Activism next month. Let’s make our voices heard!

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JOURNEY WITH US: The Climate Action Team is for you because, well, the planet needs your urgent action – and we need each other as we navigate these changing times. Learn all about the group here,  and check out our minutes and take action table, our lending library and the Carbon Offset Fund. You can also request to join the Climate Action Team on Realm. Contact Jon Reese to connect to the CAT and join us for our next Zoom meeting on Monday, March 18, at 7:30 PM using this link.