The Okefenokee is our swamp, not Twin Pines

We should all oppose a Russian-roulette mine that will highly likely disrupt the water flows and hydrology that feed the swamp’s ecosystems.
A drone photograph shows part of the Twin Pines mine site, where equipment is stationed on March 18 in Charlton County, Ga. (Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A drone photograph shows part of the Twin Pines mine site, where equipment is stationed on March 18 in Charlton County, Ga. (Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

As one of the chosen few, at least in this swamper’s mind, who considers the Okefenokee Swamp to be home turf, where I caught more bream and chased more ‘coons into hollers than I can remember, I jumped like a jackfish to rebut U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter’s “dress down” of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in which he commanded it to “stay out of my swamp.” The 350,000 acres of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which serves as a tower of tourism for the region and a habitat for more than 1,200 plants and animals of every stripe, is not his swamp. It’s our swamp.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife is doing our business and what it is supposed to do in speaking for the woodpeckers, otters, ‘gators, bowfin, pitcher plants and the rest of the swamp habitat, as well as for all people who fish, hunt and walk in the swamp.

We should all oppose a Russian-roulette mine that will highly likely disrupt the water flows and hydrology that feed the swamp’s ecosystems, as attested by highly qualified University of Georgia hydrologists, retired U.S. Geological Survey hydrologists, Bureau of Interior hydrologists and other scientists who have reviewed the risks and rewards of the project. In a strikingly unanimous voice, they say don’t dare.

Credit: handout

icon to expand image

Credit: handout

Again, in a unanimous voice, of the 77,000 responses sent to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division during public comments, including many from Carter’s constituents, virtually all spoke against the mine as strongly as Carter did against the Fish and Wildlife for trying to protect the swamp against the mine.

It makes no sense to argue that Fish and Wildlife shouldn’t have a role in the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s review of the Twin Pines application to pump groundwater and mine mineral sands on Trail Ridge, where we’d ride our horses adjacent to the swamp. Reserved water rights recognized by federal courts under the National Park Service Act of 1916 give the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge legal standing and interest in activities that affect the hydrology of the refuge. Georgia water policy also gives standing and interest to downstream water users who might be affected by water withdrawals or diversions upstream.

Instead of chastising professionals for doing their jobs, I wish Carter could share how he squares speaking against protections for the largest blackwater swamp in North America and ignoring our UGA brain trust while representing the Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals. Twin Pines’ environmental record is a parade of red flags, including conducting their preliminary testing without required professionals or permits, misrepresenting land ownership on their application and hiding their planned groundwater withdrawals until forced to reveal them.

To be fair, Carter said he had not entered opinion one way or another on the mining proposals. But he took the Fish and Wildlife folks through the wringer, going out of his way to provide witness testimony to a committee on which he does not serve. Carter has a prized seat in Congress, where he could do great things for generations — or he can listen to mining lobbyists and a few big political contributors who would stand to make millions on top of millions from the mine.

I extend to him the same offer I proposed to the head of Twin Pines Minerals in Folkston, Ga., in 2019. I attended the company’s Swamp Mining Demo Day, which was going to give us assurances — until his own engineers and technicians confessed their data was based on never having a drought, no climate change and they honestly said “we don’t know” a lot. At the end of the meeting, I said to the chief executive that things can go off track at demo days. If he could prove to a scientific peer group that his mining operation would not harm the aquifer or substantially alter swamp hydrology, I would be on his team. I have spent most of my career helping entrepreneurs across the globe create economic enterprises.

He said he would. The next week, he walked away.

Carter could do a world of good to bring him back to the peer group and do it the right way.

Cliff Oxford, a Waycross, Ga., native, is the founder of Cliff Co, a business think tank, was Atlanta Entrepreneur of the Year 2000.