Clear majority of Georgians oppose mine

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Sep. 19—A new poll shows that 69% of Georgians want Gov. Brian Kemp to take "immediate action" to protect the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge from a proposed mine near its borders.

The poll results show growing opposition to the project from scientists, local governments, elected officials and clergy.

"Across the state, from congregations in downtown Atlanta to the mountains to the coast, Georgians understand what's at risk with proposals to mine near the Okefenokee," said Codi Norred, executive director of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light.

Last year, the organization released a letter signed by more than 100 clergy from across the state asking state and federal officials to protect the Okefenokee from the proposed mining project. Among them is the Rev. Antwon Nixon, pastor of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Folkston.

"God created the Okefenokee," Nixon said. "We can never get this special place back. I live just 10 miles away. And we need the help of everyone to protect it. It's not a one person army. We have a duty to do our part and spread this heightened spiritual awareness to others."

Twin Pines Minerals, an Alabama-based company, is seeking a permit to mine on a 577-acre tract near the southeast border of the world-famous swamp that attracts 600,000 visitors a year.

The mining proposal has drawn opposition from scientists concerned that mining near the swamp could have an irreversible impact on water levels.

Heavy minerals including titanium are mined by digging a pit, sifting the minerals from the sandy soil and backfilling the pit with the sifted soil as crews dig through the mining site.

Scientists believe the stratified layers of soil are what keeps water in the basin-like swamp. Backfilling the mixed layers could allow water to leak out of the swamp, lowering water levels.

Twin Pines officials contend they can safely mine near the swamp.

There is also strong support from the public for state lawmakers to pass legislation to permanently protect the wildlife refuge from the threat of mining.

"Valdosta's mayor, council, and citizens are united in supporting any and all level of protection for the awesome beauty and resource that is the Okefenokee," said Scott James Matheson, mayor of Valdosta, which passed a resolution in 2021 urging protection of the Okefenokee.

In the late 1990s, chemical giant DuPont proposed a similar mining project, only to later abandon the plans under strong public opposition.

John Melton, of Fargo, is a member of the Georgia Water Coalition, a partnership of more than 280 organizations. The coalition's mission is to protect and care for Georgia's surface water and groundwater resources.

"I personally don't think a mine belongs near the pristine Okefenokee Swamp," Melton said. "My relatives have always been there. They were keepers of the swamp to manage the swamp for the benefits of the inhabitants, the ecosystems, and the animals that thrive there. We've had forest rangers in the family, we've been there with the fires, and when it's been flooded. A mine is a danger to ruin the ecosystem that we have so long held in trust, we, the stewards of that land."