CHARLTON COUNTY, Ga. — A swamp on the Georgia-Florida border has been named one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2023.
Nonprofit organization American Rivers placed the Okefenokee Swamp at No. 10 on the list, saying the wetland is being threatened due to the proposed building of a titanium mine by Twin Pines.
“Some places are simply too special and should be off-limits to pollution and harmful development. The Okefenokee Swamp is one of those places. The state of Georgia must do the right thing and stop the mine that would devastate the clean water and wildlife habitat of this national treasure,” Ben Emanuel, Southeast Conservation Director, American Rivers said on the organization’s website.
“Inclusion in this inauspicious list only confirms what we already knew,” Rena Peck, Executive Director of Georgia River Network, said in a news release. “People across the state and nation don’t want to see the swamp threatened by this mine. Hundreds of thousands, including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, have called on Georgia’s leaders to stop this mine. The Okefenokee is an irreplaceable and one-of-a-kind wilderness; it should not be risked to obtain common minerals that can be more safely secured elsewhere.”
Action News Jax told you in February that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service noted that hydrologic models in the Mining Plan “are incapable of appropriately evaluating the impacts of the project on water levels in the Okefenokee Swamp” and fail to consider seasonal and annual hydrologic variations that will affect mining operations.
“The Okefenokee Swamp is a unique and irreplaceable natural resource. Damage to the swamp will irrevocably harm the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the State of Georgia, and Georgia’s tourism economy,” Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff wrote in February. “With great respect, I submit to you that the risk of severe damage to this ecosystem is unacceptable. I, therefore, urge EPD (Georgia Environmental Protection Division) to reject Twin Pines’ application.”
American Rivers offered a proposed solution: “The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) must deny all permits that would enable the proposed mine to be built. Georgia EPD should heed the warnings of University of Georgia experts and federal agencies, taking all critical information into account in assessing the proposed mine’s impacts on the Okefenokee’s hydrology and ecology.”
Georgia River Network said the Okefenokee Swamp is “a unique wetland nearly half a million acres in size and home to alligators, carnivorous plants, an abundance of birds, several threatened and endangered species, and the Florida black bear.”
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which is the largest national wildlife refuge in the eastern United States, receives an average of 600,000 visits annually, Georgia River Network said. The organization said in addition to more than $50 million in local spending annually, Okefenokee Swamp tourism supports an estimated 826 jobs and $17.5 million in employment income.
“Swamp tourism is a major economic driver for communities in Charlton, Clinch and Ware counties,” Peck said in the Georgia River Network news release. “Unlike the mine which will impact the economy for the short term, swamp tourism is sustainable and will support the area generations to come.”
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American Rivers’ 10 Most Endangered Rivers list for 2023 includes:
1) Colorado River, Grand Canyon (Arizona)
2) Ohio River (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois)
3) Pearl River (Louisiana, Mississippi)
4) Snake River (Idaho, Oregon, Washington)
5) Clark Fork River (Montana)
6) Eel River (California)
7) Lehigh River (Pennsylvania)
8) Chilkat and Klehini rivers (Alaska)
9) Rio Gallinas (New Mexico)
10) Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, Florida)