The bill introduced by Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, faces an uncertain path to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk, but it does have the backing of a large and influential bipartisan group of sponsors. The cosponsors include Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, who is Chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee; Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet, Chairman of the House Intragovernmental Coordination Committee, as well as 15 others.
The governor’s office declined to comment on the legislation, but Kemp issued a proclamation Tuesday declaring February 8 “Okefenokee Swamp Day” in recognition of the swamp’s importance as a wildlife refuge and economic driver. More than 600,000 people visit the wildlife refuge every year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The bill would limit mining on Trail Ridge, an ancient complex of inland sand dunes that forms the eastern boundary of the swamp. Many experts consider the formation critical to the swamp’s health and have warned that mining there — as Twin Pines plans to — could disrupt the fragile ecosystem. A previous attempt by DuPont to mine on the ridge was halted by conservationists 25 years ago.
Environmental groups opposed to the mine praised the bill.
“HB 1289 is a testament to how much Georgians value our Okefenokee Swamp,” said Alice Keyes, vice president of coastal conservation for the nonprofit group One Hundred Miles. “This nonpartisan bill is sponsored by House committee chairs from all over the state and coastal legislators, who all understand the risk of mining near such an international treasure.”
The fate of the controversial mine still rests with Georgia’s EPD. Earlier this week, Twin Pines submitted more information to the agency on its plans for wastewater storage. If the EPD is satisfied with the company’s responses, a draft permit for the mine could soon be opened to public comment.