– March 22, 2023 –

Feds weigh in as mining comments close

Monday was the deadline to send public comments to Georgia regulators regarding plans to mine near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, has applied for permits to strip mine for minerals including titanium dioxide, a white pigment, from a tract of land that comes within 3 miles of the refuge.

Environmental Protection Division Spokeswoman Sara Lips indicated Tuesday that the agency received 77,440 comments during the public comment period as well as 26,817 comments before the public comment period began. And staff is still counting letters received via US Postal Service.

Among the comments certain to receive considerable attention is a letter from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which manages the federally owned refuge, the largest in the Eastern U.S. The USFWS tapped the National Park Service to conduct a technical review of Twin Pines’ hydrological modeling for the project. The federal hydrologists slammed the company’s modeling, which purports to show that the mining will have negligible impact on water flow in the swamp.

“This review (enclosed), which was finalized in February 2023, concludes that the modeling used to predict the magnitude, extent and types of impacts from the proposed mining process and reclamation was not adequate to accurately predict the impacts to the Okefenokee wetland ecosystem including the (Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge),” Acting Regional Director Mike Oetker wrote to the EPD.

Hydrologists from UGA and other universities around the Southeast have been vocal in their concerns about the mine’s threat to the swamp, but Department of Natural Resources Board Member Alfred W. “Bill” Jones, III, said in January that state regulators needed to hear critiques from federal scientists.

With the comment period closed, the EPD will prepare a public document responding to the comments made and indicating any changes prompted by the comments. It’s unclear how long that process will take. Individual comments will not be posted on the agency’s website, Lips said.

A paddler’s view of the Okefenokee. Credit: UGA Coastal Ecology Lab

Sapelo bill amended

As mentioned last week in this newsletter, HB 273 changes the makeup of the Sapelo Island Heritage Authority. The island’s Geechee residents, descendants of enslaved Africans on Sapelo, fear the changes could speed a loss of Geechee control of the heritage of the island, which is already gentrifying.

The bill got a hearing Wednesday in the Senate Natural Resources Committee where Josiah “Jazz” Watts, himself a descendant of people enslaved on Sapelo, was given two minutes to speak after driving through the night to Atlanta to appear before the committee.

The committee made one change that Watts, justice strategist with One Hundred Miles, and others in descendants’ advocacy groups requested: HB 273 now specifies that the two resident appointees to the board will be “descendant” residents, meaning descendants of people enslaved on the island.

But HB 273 would still allow the governor to replace himself on the board with a designee of his choosing. The descendant advocates want to narrow the choice of designees.

“We wanted to make sure that person is an elected official or an agency representative under the governor so that person can be held accountable not only to the voters but to the voters and descendants in the community,” Watts told the committee.

The amended bill awaits a senate vote.

Sapelo Island
Tree leaning over the road on Sapelo Island. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

Glynn testing underway

More than 200 Glynn County residents volunteered to take part in a study of chemical exposure in the area, where there are four Superfund sites.

Earlier this month in Brunswick participants completed a short questionnaire that included demographic and dietary information. They also provided a blood sample for analysis of chemical pollutants. Among the participants was Paul Christian, a marine scientist who calculated he’s eaten about three-quarters of a ton of seafood, much of it local, since moving to Glynn nearly four decades ago, The Current’s Mary Landers reports.

An alliance of community groups led by The Community First Planning Commission, the Glynn Environmental Coalition and One Hundred Miles requested that researchers from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health conduct the study, which is being led by Emory researchers Noah Scovronick and Dana Barr. They expect results to be available later this year.

Study participant Paul Christian gets his blood drawn.

Also of note

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned Monday that the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) by early next decade to avoid accelerating climate disasters is unlikely to be met unless developed nations rapidly transition away from fossil fuels. The Washington Post quotes U.N. Secretary General António Guterres calling the report a “how-to guide to defuse the climate time-bomb.”

Margaret Coker, editor-in-chief of The Current will be a guest panelist on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Political Rewind radio show today. Tune in to hear her discuss her investigation of the predatory lending practices of Savannah-based TitleMax.

Nimbus, the North Atlantic right whale that was dragging 375 feet of thick fishing rope until Georgia DNR and partners cut most of it away in January was seen this month near Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. New England Aquarium photos also show that the 15-year-old male has shed a short rope segment the disentanglement crew couldn’t remove but thought would come loose. Entanglement in commercial fishing gear is the leading cause of death and injury for North Atlantic right whales, which give birth off the coast of Georgia and Florida.

North Atlantic right whale “Nimbus” entangled in fishing rope off the Georgia coast. Taken under NOAA permit #24359 Credit: Ga DNR

Gopher tortoises are considered a keystone species because their burrows are known to benefit 350 other species. Georgia researchers recently added alligators to the list of critters that take advantage of the deep burrows these turtles dig. DNR wildlife technicians reported finding a gator in the same gopher tortoise burrow in Tattnall County three years in a row. They think it’s the same gator, now 4-and-a-half foot long, that likely has to remember the hideaway’s location then back itself into the burrow after travelling almost half a mile from the nearest wetland to take advantage of this accommodation.

Tattnall alligator sunning near gopher tortoise burrow

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

Brunswick chemical exposure testing underway

A study led by researchers from Emory University examines whether Brunswick-area residents have blood levels of certain contaminants that are higher than those found in the general population of the United States.

Continue reading…

Sapelo Island’s Geechee residents worry state Senate bill could disenfranchise them

Rep. Buddy DeLoach said the seat will be given to a resident of the community on Sapelo Island. But according to Bailey, the descendants on the island were not informed of the bill, and Bailey only learned of it through a contact on the Capitol floor.

Continue reading…

Attorney for Twin Pines hints at lawsuit if Georgia lawmakers pass bill protecting Okefenokee

Proponents of the Twin Pines proposal argued the matter should be left to the EPD to decide whether the project can be done without harming the swamp.

Continue reading…

Support non-partisan, solutions-based investigative journalism without bias, fear or favor on issues affecting Savannah and Coastal Georgia.


Mary Landers is a reporter for The Current in Coastal Georgia with more than two decades of experience focusing on the environment. Contact her at mary.landers@thecurrentga.org She covered climate and...