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The Planet

The Planet
December 1998 Volume 5, Number 10


Okefenokee Spared from Mine

by Jenny Coyle

DuPont has agreed to abandon its plans to stripmine titanium dioxide on 38,000 acres of land adjacent to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge - if the money can be raised to fund a package of mineral-rights exchanges and land purchases that will permanently protect the parcel.

DuPont had proposed to mine for titanium dioxide - used for white pigment in paint and paper - along the eastern border of the Okefenokee, home to 1,000 plant and animal species, some of which are endangered. The operation would have involved clearcutting mile-square sections of trees, scraping topsoil, dredging ponds and pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from underground.

The new agreement is the product of a year-long negotiation that included DuPont, environmental groups, elected officials and recreation-industry members. Sam Collier, regional representative in the Club's Atlanta office, compares the deal to a James Bond scenario: Goldfinger didn't have to steal the gold out of Fort Knox; he only needed to irradiate it because he controlled the rest of the world's supply. Similarly, Collier says, "DuPont is willing to back out of the Okefenokee as long as others can't get their hands on the titanium."

A central part of the package is the formation of a world-class education and research center to be located in Charlton County, where the mine would have been. This non-profit organization would facilitate research into the wetlands ecosystem and serve as a land trust to hold the mineral rights.

The pact came after years of grassroots campaign work led by the Georgia and Florida chapters. They staged protest rallies at DuPont's annual shareholders' meetings, collected 25,000 signatures in a petition drive and engaged non-traditional allies like nature-based tourism business owners, dentists and even Harley Davidson motorcycle riders. They also persuaded Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to strongly oppose the mine.

The same team is now searching for funding to buy the land and mineral rights and increase the size of the of the nearly 400,000-acre refuge.

"We're talking to nonprofit foundations and universities, and we're urging our congressional delegation to find the money - maybe from the Land and Water Conservation Fund - to protect the swamp," said Josh Marks, the Georgia Chapter's Okefenokee campaign coordinator. "There's a high environmental price to pay if this deal falls through."

To Take Action:Write letters to your representative and senators. Tell them that their help is needed to save the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, one of the world's greatest natural gems. Urge them to support funding for the non-mining proposal and thus permanently protect the Okefenokee.

Write: U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515; U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510. Please send copies of your letters to the Okefenokee Campaign, Sierra Club, 1447 Peachtree St. NE, #305, Atlanta, GA 30309.

For More Information: Call the Sierra Club's Okefenokee Campaign at (404) 870-0577, ext. 222;

Go on to the next article, "Jocassee Jubilee"

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