Opposition growing to mining proposal

Gordon Jackson, The Brunswick News, Ga.
·4 min read

Apr. 8—Drago Tesanovich was among the Madison County residents who was unconcerned when officials from Georgia Renewable Energy proposed building a plant to produce electricity from biomass.

It was presented as a green energy company that would be a good neighbor and employer, he said.

"I wish I would have done more due diligence," he said. "It is nowhere near green. The greenest thing is the money they will make."

Tesanovich and others formed the Madison County Clean Power Coalition to battle the problems created at Georgia Renewable Energy plants in Madison and Franklin counties.

They have taken a full-page ad in the Charlton County weekly newspaper to warn residents about "the true story about the people behind Twin Pines Minerals."

The executives who own Twin Pines also own Georgia Renewable Energy.

The letter to Charlton County officials urges them to reconsider their support for Twin Pines to mine heavy minerals near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge if the company is granted a permit.

"Five years ago, GRP presented to us and our county government plans to build a biomass to electricity plant," they said. "They promised to be good neighbors. They would only burn clean, untreated wood and they would bring us jobs and pay taxes. Then they built a huge biomass plant next to our rural farms and homes."

In addition to burning clean wood chips, the company hauled in thousands of old railroad ties coated with creosote, a toxic chemical known to cause cancer.

"Poisonous dust and debris from the chipping of the ties blew into the surrounding cow pastures, filled our lungs and washed into our waterways, and black smoke belched from the stack," the letter said.

At the Franklin County plant, runoff of creosote water poisoned four miles of a nearby creek, killing more than 2,100 fish.

The Madison County Clean Power Coalition contacted state lawmakers about the problem. It led to legislation, H.B. 857, banning the burning of creosote-soaked wood for power generation in Georgia.

"The bill passed the House and Senate without a single no vote," Tesanovich said "It was a great achievement."

The company was also forced to pay more than $850,000 in damages to a farmer after wastewater was dumped on his property.

Another ongoing issue is the noise generated at both plants. Tesanovich said he lives a mile and a half away from the Madison County plant. The noise is constant, even at his home, where it is between 40 and 50 decibels constantly.

"We were told there would be hardly any noise," he said. "We're being assaulted. Some people closer plan to move."

The letter concludes by asking Charlton County residents to ask county commissioners to rescind their letter of support for the proposed mine in the south end of the county near the national wildlife refuge.

"Do not let Twin Pines Minerals do to your community what its affiliate, GRP, has to ours," the letter said. "(Twin Pines Minerals) can't be trusted with something as precious as your health, your quality of life and the integrity of the Okefenokee Swamp."

Steve Dailey, a vice president for Georgia Renewable Energy, said the ad was taken by a "very small group of vocal citizens."

"It was seriously lacking context, grossly misrepresented our operations and failed to note the tremendous support we have in Madison and Franklin counties," Dailey said. "Nor did they note the truth that we operate well within the parameters of our permits and are in good standing with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division."

Tesanovich said it is important for Charlton County residents to understand the potential risk posed to the Okefenokee if Twin Pines Minerals gets a permit to mine near the world-famous swamp.

"GRP has put profit above everything and everybody," he said. "All the decisions have been made at the top by the same people who are hoping to mine in your area. They present themselves as good neighbors but only until they have their foot in the door. Then they will show their true colors. It happened to us. Don't let it happen there."

Dailey said there is no link between the two biomass plants and the effort to mine near the Okefenokee.

"Among many lies that opponents of our biomass plant in Madison County are spreading is that we are one and the same with Twin Pines," he said. "That is false. The two companies are separate and distinct with no operational connection whatsoever."

The companies do have one thing in common, however: the same physical mailing address in Birmingham, Ala., and general manager's name on documents filed with the Georgia Secretary of State's office.

"Dailey is simply wrong," Tesanovich said. "Twin Pines is owned and run by the same people who own and run GRP. Ray Bean, owner and manager of Twin Pines, is the owner and manager of GRP. Steve Ingle, the president of Twin Pines, was a vice president of GRP. And the offices of Twin Pines and GRP are next door to each other in the same building in Birmingham, Ala."