Guest columnist Dink NeSmith says dipping a paddle into the Okefenokee’s waters is an experience to treasure but he worries about the future of the swamp given an Alabama mining company’s plans to dig along the edge. Photo contributed by Joy Campbell
This post was updated 4:30 p.m. June 3 to clarify that Twin Pines and Georgia Renewable Power are owned by the same holding company, Green Fuels Energy.
If you have never perched in a canoe and dipped your paddle into the Okefenokee Swamp’s blackwater, you’ve missed an unforgettable adventure.
And if you’ve never lived close to a Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) plant, you are fortunate. That, too, is an unforgettable “adventure.”
But you ask, “What do these two things have in common?”
I’ve had both experiences, and I can tell you that there is link. Twin Pines Minerals LLC is an Alabama mining company. GRP has two power plants in north Georgia: Colbert and Carnesville. Both companies have the same owner: Green Fuels Energy LLC.
I can stand in our barnyard and see GRP’s Madison County stacks that once belched black smoke from the burning of toxic-creosote crossties. A new Georgia law nixed that bad act.
More on GRP in a moment.
Twin Pines is also the company that wants to mine near the lip of the Okefenokee Swamp. The company is awaiting a decision on its permit application with Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD). A need for jobs in Charlton County’s depressed economy finds support for the mining. There is also opposition, fearing environmental danger to the ultrasensitive ecosystem of one of America’s natural treasures.
Now back to GRP.
GRP has kept its neighbors in an uproar with a litany of complaints, including excessive noise. Inside our Oglethorpe County farmhouse — three miles away — I’ve heard the racket in Colbert. GRP contends that it is working on solutions for that annoyance. And some longtime residents say, “Well, the previous plant was noisy, too.”
Beyond the roar, there are complaints about light pollution. One of the qualities in our out-in-the-country life is the open-night skies. If I turn my back on GRP and look up, I see millions of stars sparkling like diamonds, cast on a giant navy-blue blanket. You can’t buy that wonder at a big-box store or online.
And then there’s air pollution.
What’s really coming out of those stacks?
My biggest GRP concern is what the Colbert plant wants to do with its wastewater. GRP has asked the EPD for permission to dump its polluted wastewater into Beaverdam Creek. Why? My guesses are for convenience and skipping the cost of treating the outflow. Experts say Beaverdam Creek is already compromised.
Enough is enough.
Beaverdam intersects with the Broad River, which flows under the longest covered bridge in Georgia. Watson Mill State Park’s waters and shoals have been a favorite swimming and splashing spot for generations. Furthermore, that stream connects with the Savannah River. Those waters eventually flow to the coast. GRP’s cheapskate wastewater-handling proposal should not endanger Georgians or our natural resources.
Now back to the Twin Pines potential project. Trail Ridge stretches along the eastern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp and into Florida. A 1989 U.S. Geological Survey reported: “This sand is, or was before mining, probably the most valuable single resource of titanium minerals in the United States.”
Titanium demand is high. Most of the U.S.’s supply is imported from Japan, Russia and China. We need to break that dependence, but isn’t there a less-fragile place to dig? America has but one Okefenokee Swamp. You cannot buy our fabled “Land of the Trembling Earth” at a big-box store or online, either.
You know the old saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Research the environmental history of Twin Pines and GRP. Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior. Therefore, the most important question is: “If the EPD grants either or both of the permits, should we trust Twin Pines or GRP?”
My opinion is: no.
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