HB 71, Okefenokee Protection Act

Municipal Impact
GMA Contact
Bill Sponsor

Rep. Darlene Taylor
District 173

This legislation, known as the "Okefenokee Protection Act" prohibits the director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division from issuing, modifying or renewing any permit for surface mining operations on Trail Ridge after July 1, 2023. Trail Ridge is an "elevated, geological feature bounded on the west by the Okefenokee Swamp". Analysis of the proposed mining operation by Dr. C. Rhett Jackson, a John Porter Stevens Distinguished Professor of Water Resources, and professor at the UGA School of Forestry and Natural Resources finds that the following could occur as a result of the mining operation going forward.

"The combination of mine pit dewatering, deep aquifer pumping, and homogenization of currently layered sands will divert groundwater that would otherwise flow to, and replenish, the swamp. The water table under Trail Ridge will drop as a consequence of homogenizing the sands. Accordingly, the mine can be expected to make the swamp drier in dry periods and also to make dry periods last longer. Drought frequency and severity, along with fire risk, would increase. The mine will generate significant volumes of wastewater that it will not be able to handle under its currently proposed, zero-discharge design. Similar mineral sands mining projects in the area have failed to acheive zero discharge and have had to discharge to local water bodies. It is almost a certainty that the Twin Pines project will have to discharge to St Marys tributaries."

Per the (2002) Georgia EPD Georgia River Basin Management Plan, for the Saint Marys River Basin, the (St. Mary's) basin include water in rivers, and ponds. Groundwater is the primary water source in the St. Marys River basin. In the Coastal Plain Province, aquifer yields are higher and groundwater withdrawals make up the majority of the total water budget. Georgia’s Drinking Water Program oversees 7 active and permitted public water systems in the St. Marys River basin. 

It is of strong concern that proposed mining operations could impugn the ability of permitted water systems operating off of the St. Mary's river basin to supply a clean supply of water to residents and businesses due to the factors expressed above. The St. Mary's riverkeepers estimate that almost 60,000 residents depend on the St. Mary's basin for water access. 

Last Updated: 1/5/2024
Subject Area: Environment
Resources: bill text
1/26/2023 - Assigned To House Committee

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