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April 16, 2024 12:17 pm

Opinion

If the Okefenokee isn’t worth saving, what is?

Credit: iStock

by Dink Nesmith, Georgia Recorder
March 29, 2024

With a nod to William Shakespeare, the question is To mine or not to mine?”

If you are talking about the Okefenokee, I have made my opinion clear. The humongous blackwater swamp is a treasure, and nothing—absolutely nothing—should be attempted that will risk harming our irreplaceable gem of nature.

But it ain’t that simple.

One of the first rules of journalism is to follow the money.

And while money talks, big money screams.

Those big-money screams under the Gold Dome are keeping our leaders from saying, “Twin Pines Minerals, take your draglines elsewhere. The Okefenokee is too valuable to prostitute for titanium or any other minerals.”

But, oh, no. 

The Alabama miners have done their best to pave a route to Trail Ridge, the eastern lip of the Okefenokee, with dollars, a bunch of them. An army of Twin Pines lobbyists and strategic campaign contributions have tamped down efforts of the General Assembly to do what millions believe is the right thing—save the swamp. If the Okefenokee isn’t worth saving, what is?

Where is Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) board on this? If that governor-appointed group isn’t our stalwarts for protection of the environment, who—pray tell—is? Back when this Twin Pines proposal surfaced, I made a personal appeal to each board member. One DNR board member replied, “You’d be surprised how little we get to decide.”

Duh.

Under DNR’s organizational umbrella is Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD). That unit granted a “draft permit” but left the matter open until after an April 9 deadline for a 60-day public-comment period. Already more than 100,000 have commented. (You can comment by going to TwinPines.Comments@dnr.ga.gov.) I am an eternal optimist. But short of a miraculous change of attitude, Twin Pines is going to get what it bought.

Why?

The big money and lobbyists have helped the General Assembly find an excuse to say no—invasion of private property rights. Twin Pines owns the property and presumes the right to gouge and drain enormous holes in Trail Ridge next to the Okefenokee. In addition, our leaders appear to believe the miners’ will-do-no-harm scientists rather than independent experts who are waving the warning flags.

Whom would I trust? It wouldn’t be Twin Pines Minerals or its scientists.

Now about private property rights. 

I am a private property owner. I want my rights, too, but there are commonsense restrictions. For example, I cannot do something on my property that will harm my neighbor’s property. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is Twin Pines’ neighbor, in a big way, all 438,000 acres. The fear is that mining will have a negative impact on the swamp’s hydrology. Simply, nearby deep digging will drain too much water for ecological sustainability.

Want a private-property-rights analogy? 

I am an advocate of the First Amendment, which gives you and me the right to voice our opinions. That’s what I’m doing right now. However, there are some commonsense restrictions. We cannot shout “fire” in a crowded theater if there’s no fire. We don’t have the right to libel or slander someone. I add, “Your freedom of speech ends within a quarter-inch of my nose.” As for private property rights, Okefenokee’s “nose” is the boundary line separating Twin Pines and the swamp. 

Remember cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Okefenokee philosophical possum, Pogo? Pogo mused, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” If Georgians give up on protecting the Okefenokee Swamp, truer words have never been spoken.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This story is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.