Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff submitted his formal opposition to a proposed strip mine next to the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia.
In his submission to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), Sen. Ossoff cited scientific analysis and warning from key experts, including a leading hydrologist at the University of Georgia, Dr. Rhett Jackson, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for the stewardship of the Refuge.
“The Okefenokee Swamp is a unique and irreplaceable natural resource. Damage to the swamp will irrevocably harm the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the State of Georgia, and Georgia’s tourism economy,” Sen. Ossoff wrote. “With great respect, I submit to you that the risk of severe damage to this ecosystem is unacceptable. I therefore urge EPD to reject Twin Pines’ application.”
According to a press release from Ossoff, Dr. Jackson, who has conducted extensive studies on the hydrology of both the Okefenokee Swamp and the St. Marys River, concluded that the Mining Plan “fails to address key environmental issues, specifically the effects of salt deposition downwind of the evaporation system, [and] the necessity of a contingency plan for unplanned discharges to the local tributaries to the St. Marys River.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also notes that hydrologic models in the Mining Plan “are incapable of appropriately evaluating the impacts of the project on water levels in the Okefenokee Swamp” and fail to consider seasonal and annual hydrologic variations that will affect mining operations.
In September 2022, at Sen. Ossoff’s invitation, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland joined him to survey the Refuge and meet with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials on the refuge’s conservation status and environmental risks. They also heard directly from local leaders about the importance of protecting the refuge for the communities in the area.
Earlier this month Sen. Ossoff also launched a bipartisan push with Congressman Earl L. “Buddy” Carter urging the Department of the Interior to formally nominate the Wildlife Refuge to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
FACTS ABOUT OKEFENOKEE SWAMP
- Okefenokee Swamp is North America's largest blackwater swamp, darkly stained by vegetation decay, resembling black tea or coffee.
- There are roughly 400 vertebrate species, 60 reptile species, and 200 bird species known to live in the swamp region.
- There are 120 miles of water trails in the Okefenokee Swamp that can be traveled by boaters and paddlers.
- For almost 25 years beginning in 1910 the Okefenokee Swamp was logged for its very old cypress, red bay, and pine trees. President Franklin D. Roosevelt put a stop to it in 1937 when he protected the area from logging.
Approximately 500,000 people visit Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) each year.
- In 2000, the company DuPont abandoned their mineral rights to the area, and 7000 acres of the 16,000 acres was donated to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
- In 2007, two wildfires merged and burned more than 600,000 acres in the area.
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