– Feb. 8, 2023 –

Spaceport vote upheld

The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld last year’s referendum in which Camden County voters overwhelmingly rejected Spaceport Camden. The opinion not only means the probable end of Camden’s $12 million quest to launch small commercial rockets in the county, but it also paves the way for petition-driven referendums in other counties, as The Current’s Mary Landers reports.

Spaceport Camden’s legal issues continue with three other ongoing lawsuits. The county sued property owner Union Carbide to try to force it to sell the county its property. One Hundred Miles is suing the county over spaceport records the county refuses to hand over, claiming they are exempt from the Open Records Act. The National Parks Conservation Association and One Hundred Miles also filed a complaint in federal district court challenging the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to issue an operating license for Spaceport Camden. The county jumped in to support the FAA.

A pro-spaceport sign in Camden County ahead of the March 8, 2022 referendum. Credit: Mary Landers/The Current

Riverkeeper tracks water quality ahead of boom

The Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization set up the first of three water quality monitoring stations on the Ogeechee last week, as The Current’s Mary Landers reports. Riverkeeper Damon Mullis said his organization is bracing for the construction and development boom connected to the planned $5.5 billion Hyundai plant in Bryan County. The lax regulatory environment in Georgia, one of the reasons the state is touted as “the best state to do business,” means nonprofits like his have to fill in the gaps, Mullis said. The only large industrial polluter currently on the Ogeechee, the Milliken textile finishing plant in Screven County, is in the process of shutting down, allowing the riverkeeper to assess a more pristine baseline.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Science and Policy Manager Kris Howard sets up a water quality monitoring station in the Ogeechee River.
Ogeechee Riverkeeper Science and Policy Manager Kris Howard sets up a water quality monitoring station in the Ogeechee River. Credit: Mary Landers/The Current

Another whale disentangled

Last week we told you about wildlife responders disentangling a North Atlantic right whale – the Georgia state marine mammal – named off the Georgia coast on Jan. 20. Just a week later another disentanglement was mounted off North Carolina. The adult male right whale in this case, “Argo,” was dragging heavy rope and two Canadian lobster pots. Over the course of three days, responders managed to attach a tracking device to the whale then return to its location and cut off the ropes. It’s estimated Argo swam at least 800 miles with the gear attached. A slideshow and video from the Georgia DNR showing how its team approached the school-bus-sized whale in an inflatable Zodiac and ultimately freed the animal is here.

An underwater view of the lobster pots Argo was dragging Credit: (Duke University Marine Lab/taken under NOAA permit 24359

Okefenokee designation

Both U.S. senators from Georgia along with six U.S. representatives sent a letter last week urging officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior to formally nominate the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge as a United Nations World Heritage Site. Congressman Buddy Carter, who represents all of Coastal Georgia, was the only Republican to sign.

“A UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge would encourage environmental protection and economic prosperity for the region. It would support efforts to protect and preserve the Refuge’s natural and cultural resources and further important scientific exploration and analysis,” Sen. Jon Ossoff, Rep. Buddy Carter, and the Georgia lawmakers wrote.  

World Heritage Sites are akin to U.S. National Parks, but on a world stage. They include cultural and natural sites. Of the 1,157 sites worldwide, 24 are in the U.S.

The Okefenokee has been on a tentative World Heritage list since 2008. The work to work make it official has accelerated over the last year, with a proposal for a titanium mine nearby adding to the urgency of protecting the swamp. Georgia regulators are accepting public comment now on a proposed mining plan. Ossoff has urged state and federal regulators to reject the mine. Carter has been largely silent on the issue.

Click here to read the lawmakers’ letter.

The bid for World Heritage status came the same week that Forbes named the refuge a top 50 place to travel in 2023.

Double rainbow over the Chesser Island Boardwalk at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. Credit: Cindy McIntyre/USFWS

Paddle opportunity

This year’s Paddle Georgia journey charts a course on the Savannah River in Screven and Effingham counties. Through a mix of big-river paddling on the wide Savannah and explorations of intimate blackwater streams like Brier, Ebenezer and Abercorn creeks, participants will encounter ancient cypress trees, fossil-filled river bluffs and wildlife-filled oxbow lakes. Novices and experienced paddlers alike are welcome.

Registration is open, with adult fees ranging from $155 for two days to $455 for the seven-day option. Discounts are available to families with two or more children. Find more info at www.garivers.org/paddle-georgia.

Georgia River Network’s Paddle Georgia 2023 is set for June 25-July 1 on the Savannah River. Epic water battles are almost assured on this adventure that participants have described as “summer camp for adults and families.”  Courtesy Georgia River Network.

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

Ga. Supreme Court upholds public vote to veto spaceport

A Georgia Supreme Court decision upholds Camden County’s March referendum in which voters rejected the purchase of land for a spaceport.

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Riverkeeper monitors Ogeechee ahead of Hyundai boom

Ahead of the development of the massive Hyundai plant in Bryan County, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper takes the pulse of its beloved recreational waterway.

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VIDEO: Responders free another right whale entangled in fishing gear

VIDEO: For the second time in a 10-day span, responders free an endangered right whale from entanglement in fishing gear.

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Slideshow: Rescuers disentangle a right whale

Video, photos show young whale freed and swimming off Jekyll Island.

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Despite ongoing investigation and scientific disputes, a plan for strip mine near Okefenokee advances

While weighing fines for the mining company, state regulators open a comment period on its controversial plan to strip mine near the Okefenokee.

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Mary Landers covers Coastal Georgia’s environment for The Current, a topic she covered for nearly 24 years at the Savannah Morning News, where she began and ended her time there writing about health,...