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YARBROUGH: Twin Pines Mining indifferent to Okefenokee backlash
Dick Yarbrough

As of this writing, the opportunity to express your opinion to Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division about their decision to issue draft permits for Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals to strip-mine 582 acres of wetlands it owns adjacent to the Okefenokee Swamp, is over. That ended April 9. And our intrepid public servants under the Gold Dome along with their bureaucratic minions appear not to care one whit about what you think.

It seems nobody wants the permits to be granted – except Twin Pines and their money-showering lobbyists – yet our politicians are telling us to go eat toothpaste whitener, one of the basic essentials to life as we know it, which will result from the company’s mining for titanium dioxide.

The Okefenokee refuge covers nearly 630 square miles, is home to more than 400 animal species, draws roughly 600,000 visitors annually and is being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage site like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park. Big whooping deal, says Twin Pines. Fire up the bulldozers.

The Environmental Protection Division, which is fast becoming an oxymoron of epic proportions, has gotten thousands of negative comments about Twin Pines’ stated intentions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposes approving the permits. The Georgia Conservancy opposes it. The Georgia Municipal Association opposes it. Both of Georgia’s U.S. Sens. Ralph Warnock and Jon Ossoff oppose it. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland opposes it. Former Republican Speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich opposes it. And, as you can probably tell, I’m not crazy about it, either.

A bill to prohibit mining on portions of Trail Ridge, which is exactly where Twin Pines is aiming their scoops, was sponsored by more than half of the members of the state House of Representatives. It went nowhere. Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, chair of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, didn’t allow the bill to see the light of day. If you don’t have anything else on your agenda, why don’t you ask her why and see what kind of answer you get, if you get one at all. Her address: Good luck.

What disappoints me most is the nonresponse of Gov. Brian Kemp. The governor wields enormous power and influence in our state and could have made the Twin Pines effort dead in the water at any point. Strangely, the governor has been deafeningly silent. Why? This is an Alabama-based company, after all. Let them go back home and dig in Clayhatchee or Boligee.

I would remind Gov. Kemp that in 1999, Gov. Zell Miller was instrumental in successfully stopping a similar effort by Dupont Corporation to mine the same Trail Ridge. A quarter of a century later and it is déjà vu all over again.

And then there was this condescending comment by Sen. Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R- Dahlonega, who said of the Twin Pines push to strip-mine the area, “Those are decisions that shouldn’t be made by political entities. We have to let our regulatory agencies do their jobs.” Say what?

This guy must believe we are dumber than a box of rocks. Protecting one of our state’s most treasured resources from a company that was recently fined $20,000 for drilling exploratory boreholes at the site in violation of state law is the job of our elected officials who, the last time I looked, oversee the regulatory agencies.

As I have said many times before, all political decisions – all –are made in only one of two ways: With the application of pressure or the absence thereof. You would think there has been enough public outcry that our politicians would be feeling the pressure and listening to us. Evidently, that is not the case with the Twin Pines heavy-handed insistence on getting their toothpaste whitener wherever the hell they want. No doubt, there is some kind of political hocus-pocus going on behind closed doors we aren’t privy to.

I endow a program in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia. The subject is crisis communications. One of the things I stress is that being legally correct, as Twin Pines insists it is, does not mean you will win in the court of public opinion, where the ultimate decision lies.

Twin Pines management and their tone-deaf lawyers may win the hearts and minds of the bureaucrats and obfuscated-talking politicians but not the rest of us. They have already lost badly in the court of public opinion. As if they give a damn.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at or at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.