The Georgia General Assembly will consider legislation that will ban surface mining on Trail Ridge, the geological formation that some believe makes the Okefenokee Swamp a swamp.

House Bill 1289 would “prohibit the director of the Environmental Protection Division of the Natural Resources Department from issuing, modifying or renewing any permit or accepting any bond to conduct surface mining operations on the geological feature known as Trail Ridge between the St. Marys and Satilla rivers.”

The legislation is sponsored by House committee chairs concerned about the potential risks mining poses to the swamp.

The request of Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals for a permit to mine on a 577-acre tract near the southeast border of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has drawn opposition from environmental groups who are concerned about the potential impacts of mining near the world-famous swamp.

The permits submitted by Twin Pines to the DNR include a surface mining application, mining use plan, groundwater withdrawal application and soil abatement plan.

Twin Pines officials are aware of the legislation filed Tuesday.

“We can’t speculate on what may or may not happen in the legislature,” said Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines Minerals. “We are proceeding with our plans and will abide by the environmental regulations that are actually on the books and applicable to our project as we have done from day one.”

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, they contend.

“As a danger to the future of the Okefenokee Swamp, Trail Ridge mining impacts the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples of the area, as well as the historic heritage of the people and communities whose existence has been shaped by the swamp,” the resolution reads.

As many as 700,000 people visit the wildlife refuge each year, creating 753 permanent local jobs and adding $64.7 million to the local economy.

Alice Keyes, vice president of coastal conservation for the environmental organization One Hundred Miles, said opposition to mining near the swamp on Trail Ridge stagnated after DuPont retired rights to mine in the late 1990s.

“But since Twin Pines announced its plans, opposition has been growing again,” she said. “Over the past year, city councils and commissions around the swamp have adopted local resolutions asking our state legislature to help protect the swamp.”

They included Valdosta in Lowndes County, Kingsland and St Marys in Camden County, Waycross and Ware County, and Homeland in Charlton County.

Keyes predicted the proposed legislation, sponsored by Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, has “a strong chance of passing.”

“It’s important that the members of the General Assembly hear from their constituents,” she said. “All of us who love the Okefenokee should contact our representatives in the House and Senate and urge them to support HB 1289.”

One Hundred Miles has a simple tool to help connect residents to their elected officials at OneHundredMiles.org/Okefenokee, she said.

The law, if passed, will prohibit mining in the restricted area and end the possibility of mining near the swamp.

“It would send a resounding message that the Okefenokee is part of our identity and a tremendous source of pride — one that can be used to encourage more sustainable economic opportunities across the region,” Keyes said.

“House Bill 1289 is a true testament to how much Georgians value the Wild Heart of Georgia.”

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