Thursday, May 1, 1997

Story last updated at 11:14 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30, 1997

Georgians protest mining
Du Pont Okefenokee plans rapped

By Alex Dominguez
Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. - Du Pont shareholders and environmentalists traveled to Delaware from Georgia and Utah to attend the chemical giant's annual meeting and protest plans to mine for titanium and drill for oil on or near federally protected lands.

Judy Jennings, a Georgia Sierra Club member, said as many as 40 people marched outside the company's annual meeting yesterday while shareholders inside aired their concerns about plans to mine near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Southeast Georgia and drill for oil in the newly created Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah. Other estimates said half that many protesters participated.

Jennings said a Sierra Club member was allowed to speak before Du Pont's board of directors briefly, but there was no response from the corporation's members after the presentation.

''I wish I could take you there for just a minute to experience it,'' Elizabeth Hagan, 18, a Du Pont shareholder and high school student from Atlanta, said of the Okefenokee. ''What it's like to be sitting in absolute silence by dark coffee waters and towering cypress trees.

''It's irreplaceable, it's absolutely irreplaceable. If Du Pont does mine, there will be irrevocable changes.''

Hagan was also allowed to present to the board of directors a petition signed by more than 200 people opposing the mine.

The Okefenokee covers 438,000 acres in Southeast Georgia and Northern Florida. Du Pont has bought or leased a 38,000-acre tract of piney woods next to the refuge.

But John A. Krol, Du Pont's president and chief executive officer, told shareholders that the company will not mine for titanium unless it is certain the mining won't hurt the environment.

''Once again, let me assure you we will not proceed at Okefenokee unless we are completely satisfied we will not harm the environment,'' Krol said.

Titanium, a lightweight metal used in golf clubs, jet engines and bone replacements, is primarily used in titanium dioxide, a widely used white pigment found in paints, plastics, paper and other items. The global market for titanium dioxide is estimated at $7 billion a year worldwide, of which Du Pont controls about a quarter, or $1.75 billion, the company said.

Du Pont maintains it can mine for titanium on the refuge's edge without environmental damage, but has temporarily halted the project because of criticism and said it would hire an independent mediator to hold talks between the company and its critics.

Last month, environmentalists also criticized Du Pont and its Conoco oil division after Utah allowed the company to drill an exploratory oil well in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Tom Price of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said Du Pont should look elsewhere for oil.

''We want Du Pont to just leave it alone. This is like stripping the gold out of the Sistine Chapel,'' Price said.

Krol said the company was negotiating with concerned parties.

''We are, in both cases, collaborating not only with government officials but also with environmental groups to come up with a solution that is not only good for the environment but good for business,'' Krol said.

Du Pont has said its mining will not affect the refuge, citing its experience mining in Northern Florida over the past 40 years.

But Sam Collier, a Sierra Club staff member from Atlanta who protested outside the meeting, was unmoved. ''There is no scientific evidence they can provide that mining won't hurt the swamp,'' he said.

Critics say they are concerned that the proposed 24-hour-a-day mining operation in Georgia will harm the Okefenokee's water quality and destroy wildlife habitats. Critics have also complained that dredging machinery and floodlights will ruin the peace and quiet visitors enjoy at the park.

Sam Booher, a Du Pont shareholder from Augusta, Ga., and a retired Army lieutenant colonel said he drove to Wilmington with his wife to deliver in person what he has been trying to tell the company by mail.

''We all need assurances that this mining will not turn into another Exxon Valdez oil spill, public relations nightmare,'' Booher said.

''We drove here to ask you in person for your assurance that our investment in this company will not suffer as you eventually move ahead and set up mining operations alongside the main tourist entrance to one of the most visited public sites and one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in the South.''

Jennings of the Georgia Sierra Club said she was pleased with the protest.

''The board of directors didn't respond in any way that I know of,'' Jennings said, ''but they had to be concerned.''

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