Blowups, barracks and houses of peat help form the mosaic that the Okefenokee presents from overhead. Credit: Justin Taylor

Blowups, barracks and houses of peat help form the mosaic that the Okefenokee presents from overhead.

Credit: Justin Taylor / The Current

Legislation that would have imposed a three-year moratorium on new permitting for dragline mining near the Okefenokee Swamp failed to get the approval it needed on the final day of the Georgia legislative session.

Senate Bill 132 needed only an up or down vote from the state senate after sailing through the house Tuesday. Instead, it was not brought to a vote before the legislature adjourned early Friday morning. 

“Georgia Conservancy is disappointed by the lack of Senate action on SB 132,” Georgia Conservancy President Katherine Moore said in an email to The Current. “Discussions over a moratorium as a critical pathway to long-term conservation resulted in overwhelming House support with a vote of 167 to 4. However, the bill was not a priority for Senate leadership during a slow-moving agenda on sine die.

“Our organization is grateful for House support and courage in seeing the value of a moratorium. The chamber’s votes on a moratorium clearly indicate common ground can be found towards legislative considerations for the Okefenokee Swamp. It is imperative that this be understood by all.”

The proposed moratorium was a response to Alabama-based Twins Pines Minerals’ plans to strip mine for titanium dioxide and other minerals on 582 acres about three miles away from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge on an elevated area called Trail Ridge. Georgia regulators issued Twin Pines’ draft permits for the mine in early February. (Written comments can be submitted to until 4:30 p.m. April 9. The permits can be reviewed here.)

Opponents argue the demonstration mine will alter the flow of water in the swamp. Twin Pines insists the demonstration will prove the mining can proceed safely. The company’s plans include future strip mining on 8,000 acres on Trail Ridge.

A coalition of Georgia environmental groups, including the Georgia Conservancy, backed more comprehensive protection for the Okefenokee. The bill they favored, The Okefenokee Protection Act, would have permanently put off limits any new mining on Trail Ridge. It remained stalled in committee for two years despite having bipartisan backing from more than 90 representatives in the 180-member house. 

With the exception of the Georgia Conservancy, environmental groups found the 3-year moratorium to be a weak compromise. They criticized the three-year limit as too short and the restriction on only dragline mining as too narrow. One Hundred Miles called the measure a “short-sighted, watered-down bill that is an attempt to trick the public into thinking the swamp is safe. It is not and will not be, even if SB132 passes,” the group wrote in an alert urging members to tell their senators to vote against it.

Twin Pines declined to comment on the legislation, Spokesman Chip Stewart said via email.