– August 31, 2022 –

Plugging into public transportation

Electric buses offer a two-fer for the environment. Not only are they public transportation, which increases efficiency, but they also lack a tail pipe so they’re not spewing pollution out the back end. Good for the climate. Good for the lungs.

CAT, the only urban public transit system in Coastal Georgia, put its first six electric buses on the streets in April. Earlier this month it announced it’ll be adding four more battery powered buses to its fleet within the next two years.

Several officials involved with the CAT electric bus rollout hinted that getting more electric school buses on the road in Coastal Georgia is on their to-do list. And there are a lot of school buses to convert. While CAT operates 62 buses, coastal school districts operate more than 775 school buses. Nationwide, schools have committed to 12,000 electric school buses, but Georgia accounts for only a single bus out of that total, according to a recent article in The Conversation.

Smaller electric vehicles — the car, pickup truck and SUV varieties — got a boost last week with the California announcement that the state will ban the sale of new gasoline powered vehicles by 2035. Other states are expected to follow.

Chatham Area Transit has six fully electric buses

Mining for answers

As we mentioned last week, Twin Pines Minerals, the Alabama company that plans to mine for titanium dioxide near the Okefenokee recently reached a settlement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that resurrects the mining project.

The settlement sent the project straight back into the hands of state regulators at the Environmental Protection Division, which made it a topic of intense discussion at the Georgia Environmental Conference on Jekyll last week. A panel there included Savannah Republican Rep. Ron Stephens, who cosponsored the ultimately unsuccessful Okefenokee Protection Act in the state legislature last year.

Stephens vowed to bring back new legislation to permanently protect the Okefenokee from mining.

“We put a bill in last year, it was too broad,” he said. “… But we’ll be back.”

Stephens also said it wasn’t appropriate for the governor to weigh in while EPD was making its permitting decisions. Gov. Brian Kemp issued a proclamation on Feb. 8, 2022 declaring the day as “Okefenokee Swamp Day” in Georgia. That was the same day Stephens and his cosponsors filed the Okefenokee protection bill.

But Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams did offer an updated statement about the issue:

“Stacey Abrams strongly opposes mining in the Okefenokee Swamp. If elected as governor of Georgia, Abrams would direct the Environmental Protection Division to identify all legal means to deny the permit and protect the swamp. Georgia will not benefit from an out-of-state corporation extracting minerals while inflicting the known harms of mining on the unique ecology of the Okefenokee,” the statement read in part.

EPD has indicated it will allow for two extended public comment periods of 60 days each before the mining permit is finalized. That timeline means no decision is likely until after the November election. It could even be delayed until after the legislature is back in session in January.

Paddlers navigate the water trail to Minnie’s Lake in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Credit: Tom Wilson

BEACH ADVISORIES: As of this writing, bacteria-related beach water advisories are posted for the Fifth Street Crossover Beach and the South Beach at the Lighthouse on St. Simons Island. Permanent advisories are in place for 3 beaches in the Coastal Health District. They are Clam Creek Beach and St. Andrews Beach on Jekyll Island; and King’s Ferry County Park on the Ogeechee River.
Before you head to the beach, check the link to see current notices.
The beach at Jekyll Island State Park. Mary Landers/The Current

High turnover at EPD

Also at the Georgia Environmental Conference, which attracts environmental consultants and environmental engineering companies from around the Southeast, was the state’s top environmental regulator, Environmental Protection Division Director Rick Dunn.

Dunn told the attendees that the state doesn’t pay enough to retain EPD’s high skill workers, including environmental engineers, geologists, environmental compliance specialists, modelers, and laboratory scientists. Competition for these workers comes from engineering consulting firms, regulated industries and public entities such as EPA and local governments.

“Historically, our turnover rates have been around 10%. Over the last two years, it has jumped to around 20%,” Dunn said in lunchtime remarks at the Jekyll Island Convention Center. “This rate for us is simply unsustainable without significant consequences. Our work is technical, frequently subject to challenge. Consistency, subject matter expertise, and institutional knowledge is critical to our work. And high turnover kind of presents an existential challenge. The overwhelming majority of folks who separate from EPD today leave due to higher pay somewhere else. It’s not uncommon for environmental professionals to see a 30 to 50% raise elsewhere.”

Dunn said EPD is moving its compensation closer to market rates with some special funds from the General Assembly and some “redirection” of funds within the division.

Ga. EPD Director Richard Dunn

If you have feedback, questions, concerns, or just like what you see, let us know at thecurrentga@gmail.com.

More electric buses coming to Chatham County

Chatham Area Transit will soon have a 15% electric bus fleet.

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CAT buses go electric

With six battery electric buses, Chatham Area Transit is among the first public transportation systems in Georgia to embrace the new technology

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Electric school buses are taking students back to school

School districts are adopting electric school buses, which is good news for the health of students.

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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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Mining company sues Army Corps over project near Okefenokee

Mining company sues Corps of Engineers over Okefenokee permitting setback saying that agency made new policy in consulting with Native Americans about the project.

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