Sept. 21, 2022


It’s the autumnal equinox on Thursday, the start of fall. And not a minute too soon for heat-weary coastal residents. Another seasonal note: the Atlantic hurricane season remained quiet for its typical mid-September activity peak but roared awake this week with Hurricane Fiona crashing into Puerto Rico. We’ll take a look at issues related to both these seasons, but first we turn to a recent high profile visitor. Let’s go.


Interior Secretary tours Okefenokee

At the end of last week the nation’s first Native American cabinet member, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, visited the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Activists opposed to Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals’ plan to mine for titanium dioxide near the blackwater swamp hoped for a repeat of the visit 25 years ago from then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who denounced similar plans from Dupont that eventually led to the chemical giant donating land to conservation. But history didn’t repeat itself. Haaland did listen to local leaders tell what the Okefenokee means to them, including one Black businesswoman who related how it provided refuge in more ways than one during the Jim Crow era, as The Current’s Mary Landers reports.

Activists from the Okefenokee Protection Alliance, a coalition of conservation groups, waited in the parking lot of the refuge’s visitor center for a chance to speak to Haaland. Jane Winkler, the tribal liaison of the Cherokee of Georgia, wanted to gift Haaland with a hand-quilted apron and a bundle of sage, but had to settle for a polite wave as the secretary drove past on her way to a helicopter tour of the refuge.

Jane Winkler burns sage and prays for visiting leaders as Rena Peck watches at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Stewart Dohrman

Speak quickly at the PSC

For coastal residents paying the last of their summer electric bills, a story from the Georgia Recorder’s Stanley Dunlap couldn’t be timelier. He writes about how to voice concerns to the Public Service Commission about Georgia Power’s plans to raise electricity rates by 12% during a series of hearings beginning later this month before a final vote in December. The five-member, elected PSC recently made it harder to comment. They are now limiting public comment to three minutes per person, an hour total. They also require commenters to sign up an hour beforehand in person at the PSC in Atlanta. There are also conduct requirements:

“All persons making public comments will be expected to conduct themselves appropriately. There will be no profanity, costumes, signs or props allowed in the Commission building,” the new rule, signed Aug. 1. 2022 states.

“No props” will cramp the style of some commenters, including Aviva Vuvuzela, an Atlanta-area musician who has commented repeatedly at the PSC through song while playing the ukelele.

Georgia Power’s requested rate increase would add $16.29 – about $200 annually – to the average residential customer’s bill over the next three years, starting in 2023 with a $14.32 hike. Credit: John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

‘Floatovoltaics’

Solar arrays are sometimes criticized for edging out valuable farmland. So some solar is being deployed on water to get around this issue, as Eric Krebs reports in Reasons to be Cheerful. A reference to how these so-called floatovoltaics could be used in Florida sounds doable in Georgia, too.

“If you know anything about Florida, and especially south Florida, you know that we have retention ponds and bodies of water just throughout our entire peninsula,” said Stetson Tchividjian, director of business development at Florida-based D3 Solar, Florida-based D3 Solar was one of the first developers in the U.S. to specialize in floating solar. “Where land is either very expensive or very scarce, why not utilize a lot of these bodies of water?” 

Floating solar is more expensive but has some built-in benefits. The water cools the solar panels, making them more efficient. And the panels can prevent nearly half the expected evaporation of the water.


Briefly:

Hurricane season is far from over, extending through November. Hurricane Fiona is a good reminder of that. It’s also a lesson in how a hurricane’s category tells you only about the danger from wind, not from storm surge or rain. Fiona was a category 1 when it hit Puerto Rico, meaning its wind speed was 74-95 mph. It still brought catastrophic flooding dumping more than 30 inches of rain in some areas. If you’d like to help out the people of Puerto Rico, this NPR article has suggestions.

A new study of artificial reefs in the Southeast calculates the amount of seafloor covered by artificial versus natural reefs. The study by NOAA, Duke University, and state agencies  found that artificial reefs cover less than 0.01 percent (1.2 square miles, or about 560 American football fields) of the region. Natural reefs constitute 2.6 percent (just over 1,000 square miles, or about the size of all metro Atlanta counties combined) of the study region. Georgia’s artificial reefs are made of an array of materials ranging from M-60 battle tanks to chicken cages.

A grouper ambushes its prey on Gray’s Reef, a natural reef and marine sanctuary. Credit: Gray's Reef National Narine Sanctuary

National Public Lands Day is Saturday, Sept. 24.  Entry fees will be waived at national parks and other federal public lands, including national monuments, forests, recreation areas, seashores, wildlife refuges, historical sites, battlefields, and grasslands. It’s the biggest single day of volunteering for parks and public lands. People can find 500 volunteer events in almost every state at national, state, local parks or other public lands through this interactive map: https://www.neefusa.org/npld-event-search 

Cumberland Island National Seashore sign at the waterfront pavilion. Entrance fees are waived on National Public Lands Day. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

Quick note: Coast Watch will take a break next week. It will return Oct. 5. In the meantime, if you have a story idea, comment, question or just like what you see, let me know at mary.current@gmail.com.


Visit from Interior Secretary shines a light on Okefenokee supporters

Interior Sec. Deb Haaland toured the Okefenokee but hasn’t yet weighed in on the issue of proposed strip mining nearby

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Settlement leaves fate of mine at Okefenokee’s edge with Georgia EPD

This development puts the project back on track to continue going through the state Environmental Protection Division’s final stages following an administrative setback applauded by Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, Muscogee Creek Nation and environmentalists for protecting the Okefenokee, its water table and its threatened wildlife.

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Want to weigh in on Georgia Power’s proposed rate increase? Here’s how.

The Georgia Public Service Commission has adopted new procedures that allow each person to speak for up to three minutes during the first hour of each hearing day, but after the time runs out, people who wish to speak must return another day and anyone not directly involved in the case will be […]

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Floating solar farms are a game changer

Solar looks to expand on water with floating solar arrays.

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