BREAKING: JUDGE RESTORES PROTECTIONS FOR OKEFENOKEE SWAMP

A U.S. federal judge this week has thrown out the Trump Administration’s rule allowing the draining and filling of streams, marshes and wetlands across America by restoring old definitions of what constitutes a protected waterway. 

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Márquez wrote that Trump officials committed serious errors while writing the regulation, finalized last year, and that leaving it in place could lead to “serious environmental harm.” 

While this ruling is likely to kick off years of complicated appeals, it could have immediate impact on a Coastal Georgia commercial proposal to mine rare metals thought to be in or around the Okefenokee Swamp. Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals has sought access to land adjacent to the swamp, saying that its project would bring jobs to a rural part of Georgia, while environmental groups have opposed the application, citing the same argument Judge Márquez made in her ruling.

In 2019, the mining company publicly presented its plans in meetings in Folkston where it disclosed a study that considered the impact of a 12,000-acre mining operation. Twin Pines last year submitted a proposal downsized to 740 acres in hopes of gaining traction.

The new judicial decision puts those plans in doubt by restoring the definition of waterways protected by the Clean Water Act back to rules in place in the 1980s. In essence those rules define “water” as a stream bed, even one filled seasonally or with rainwater, swamps and man-made ponds that connect to other bodies of water via groundwater flow. 

The Okefenokee Swamp has been under the protection of the Clean Water Act for decades. Credit: Georgia Rivers Network Credit: Georgia Rivers Network

SAVANNAH TECH TO TEST  ‘BLUE TECH’ SKILLS

Students from Savannah Technical College will compete in an underwater robotics competition next spring thanks to funding from a National Science Foundation grant. 

Savannah Tech’s Industrial Systems program was one of two community and technical college groups in the U.S. selected for the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Competition. 

It’s a chance for students studying industrial systems to learn and test “blue tech” skills that serve marine trades with mechatronics while developing tools for ocean research. 

Savannah’s group will be a “home team” — Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is the local host of the Gray’s Reef Southeast Regional MATE ROV Competition. Gray’s Reef is a 22-square-mile sanctuary located 19 miles east of Sapelo Island. Its administrative offices are located on the campus of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in Chatham County. 


BEACH ADVISORIES: As of writing, there is one beach water quality advisory along the coast. It’s on Tybee Island on South Beach at Chatham Street from 18th Street to Inlet Avenue. There are two other permanent ones on Jekyll Island, at Clam Creek Beach on the back side of the island and at St. Andrews Beach near the picnic area. Before you head to the beach, check the link to see current notices.


HURRICANE IDA SHREDS POWER GRID

Catastrophic winds from Hurricane Ida have left hundreds of thousands of people without power in Louisiana, The Lens reports. New Orleans saw winds of over 110 miles per hour as the Category 4 storm ripped through the city. More than 850,000 households are without power as of Monday morning, and city residents are being urged to not return if they evacuated or to shelter in place if they stayed. 

Officials are warning that Ida, though no longer a hurricane, continues to dump rain and spawn tornadoes as it moves through Mississippi, Alabama, north Georgia and northward. Ida came ashore as a fast-forming Category 4 hurricane and climatologists have been warning us for a while now that one result of warming temperatures is stronger storms. Others have been warning about the fragility of the South’s communications and electrical infrastructure. All of this collided this week with Ida’s arrival. 

Hurricanes are the number one threat to power grids, New Orleans Public Radio reports. It’s up to individual states to guard their power systems against natural disasters. 

The U.S.’s infrastructure is aging and, in some places, unreliable. Georgia’s power grid is included within the Eastern Interconnect, a power grid that shares energy between states up the east coast. The state’s power sources are also split between coal, nuclear energy and renewable energy. As climate change alters the equation, power grids — and their customers — will need to adapt.

FISHERS TAKE HARD HIT FROM STORM

The Louisiana fishing industry took a hard hit this week from Hurricane Ida, which made its way directly up into the busy commercial shrimping area in Terrebonne and LaFourche parishes. The area was still trying to recover from last year’s tangle with Hurricane Laura. National Fisherman reports some fishers lost boats, docks and their homes. Recovery operations were underway Tuesday but were hampered by heavy thunderstorms.


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Decades old, climate change could decimate South’s communication base

Storms in recent years have uncovered gaps in utilities that require serious intervention — researchers say climate change poses specific threats to the region’s interconnectivity.

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