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Georgia approves underwater logging

Cypress and pine logs that sank more than 100 years ago can be retrieved during the next two years.

Associated Press
Published September 6, 2005

CAIRO, Ga. - Along with regular lumber, Ryan Lee's sawmill supplies wood from sunken cypress and pine logs that fell into rivers while being rafted to ports and sawmills during the heyday of Southern logging in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Retrieving the valuable logs from river bottoms has been illegal in Georgia since 1998 because of legal and environmental concerns, forcing suppliers like Lee to buy them in other states.

But that's about to change.

This year, Georgia lawmakers approved legislation authorizing underwater logging for two years on parts of the Flint and Altamaha rivers, mostly in southern Georgia. If there are no problems with the logging, the law may be extended.

Environmentalists oppose the work, citing concerns for spawning fish, water quality and the legality of disposing of the logs, which are technically state property, at less than market value.

"This is the nursery grounds of the river. To create a business that benefits a few ... certainly is not in the public interest," said Deborah Sheppard, executive director of Altamaha Riverkeeper, a Darien, Ga., river watchdog group.

But Georgia state Sen. Tommie Williams, a Republican from Lyons, said the law has been patterned after Florida's program, which he called a "safe way to do this."

"I didn't see a reason, as long as we could protect the environment, that we shouldn't do it," Williams said.

An estimated 3 to 5 percent of the millions of logs sent down the rivers in the 19th and 20th centuries sank to the bottom before they reached their destination. These "deadheads," also known as "sinkers," remain well-preserved on river bottoms. The wood that comes from the logs is revered for its tight grain and colors such as blond, caramel and black. It's up to 10 times more valuable than conventional wood.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources plans to begin accepting applications from loggers in January. Applicants will have to post a $50,000 bond to cover damages and they'll need a $10,000 license.

[Last modified September 6, 2005, 03:15:21]

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