An open letter to Gov. Kemp regarding the future of our Okefenokee


Dear Governor: I know you have been busy signing or vetoing bills from the recent legislative session, so I have chosen not to disturb you. But now that you have all that behind you, I wonder if I might have a word with you? And that word is: Okefenokee.

I have been at this job for 26 years and some 2,000-plus columns and I don’t recall getting as much angry mail as I have gotten from my readers — and your constituents — over the possibility of the Environmental Protection Division granting permits to Alabama-based Twin Pines to drag mine 582 acres atop Trail Ridge on the eastern edge of the Okefenokee — our Okefenokee. The readers want you to put a stop to it. Frankly, they are disappointed you haven’t already done so. The opposition to the proposal is wide and it is deep, and it is bipartisan.

It is not like Twin Pines is proposing to mine uranium for our nuclear power plants, Hatch and Vogtle, or for radium for optical physics that will allow telescopes to more clearly examine distant stars and ponder the meaning of the universe. No, they want to dig 50 feet into the ground over 582 acres to extract titanium dioxide which is used in paint and toothpaste. Really? Paint? Toothpaste? Oh, and did I mention chewing gum? In the Okefenokee? Our Okefenokee?

I am sure you are aware that the Okefenokee refuge is being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage site like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall in China. Hmm. A World Heritage site or a source for paint and toothpaste and chewing gum. Decisions. Decisions.

You have been a very good governor who has done great things for Georgia in your two terms. And your office is a powerful position. It is and always has been. The governor of Georgia can make things happen. That is why the citizens of our state are looking to you to pull the plug on the Twin Pines mining request and send them back to Alabama where they belong. You can do it. Zell Miller did.

Back in the late ’90s, DuPont was proposing to do the same thing in roughly the same place and facing the same kind of opposition. Finally, Gov. Miller put a stop to it. DuPont was and is a lot bigger than Twin Pines. And evidently more sensitive to public opinion than is this politically-tone deaf crowd.

My loyal readers, who are situated from the far northeast corner of our state to the far southwest and a lot of places in between are not a bunch of dumb bunnies, governor. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say they are feeling disenfranchised. They know something is going on behind the scenes and they want some answers.

They aren’t going to get them from Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee whose self-congratulatory website says she “champions sound environmental policies that also protect Georgia’s economy,” and who kept a bipartisan bill bottled up in her committee that would have put all of Trail Ridge off limits to future mining.

A bill that did pass this past session would prevent the Environmental Protection Division from considering new permits for dragline mining for three years but would not keep them from issuing the current permits to Twin Pines. Sleeves out of the vest.

The most condescending and infuriating statement to date came from Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, who said of the Twin Pines effort to mine the area, “Those are decisions that shouldn’t be made by political entities. We have to let our regulatory agencies do their jobs.” Oh, please. We didn’t elect bureaucrats to decide who gets to mine the Okefenokee. We elected you and your colleagues, senator. Don’t insult our intelligence. And don’t talk down to us.

I won’t take time today to get into the political contributions Twin Pines and their friends have made or the high-powered lobbyists they have hired or the company’s dubious track record. I will save that for future discussions in case this bad idea doesn’t go away.

Today, I am respectfully requesting that you tell my readers where you stand on this issue. Will you allow an Alabama-based company to drag mine Trail Ridge on the edge of the Okefenokee — our Okefenokee — for materials to make paint and toothpaste? (Oh, and I forgot chewing gum.) Just give it to us straight, governor. Please.