Company submits new application to skirt environmental review for mine near Okefenokee swamp

The Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia is home to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which has been designated a National Natural Landmark. (© Chris DeScherer)

Just days after submitting a flawed hydrology report on its plans for a titanium mine right next to Georgia’s iconic Okefenokee Swamp in Charlton County, Twin Pines Minerals has withdrawn its original application and applied for a marginally smaller project in an attempt to sidestep more scrutiny of the true environmental impacts.

“The company’s attempt at a hydrology study has been criticized by experts as unclear, incomplete, and problematic,” said SELC Senior Attorney Bill Sapp. “Twin Pines has remained consistently opaque with the public on the broad impacts mining would have on the swamp and surrounding communities, and we do not have faith that a new application aimed at sidestepping the environmental review process will be any different.”

Twin Pines has remained consistently opaque with the public on the broad impacts mining would have on the swamp and surrounding communities, and we do not have faith that a new application aimed at sidestepping the environmental review process will be any different.”

—Senior Attorney Bill Sapp

In July 2019, Twin Pines submitted a permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeking permission to create a 1,200-acre titanium mine next to the Okefenokee Swamp. The proposed 1,200-acre mine was the first phase in a larger 12,000-acre project. Twin Pines proposed scraping off the surface of the site, which includes hundreds of acres of wetlands, digging up to 50-feet deep into the sandy soils on site, separating the minerals from lighter sands, and then attempting to put all of the layers and hydrology back together again in a way that would allow for the creation of new wetlands—a task experts say is not feasible.

SELC attorneys raised questions about the impacts on water quality—surface and groundwater—in written comments to Twin Pines in the fall of 2019. In the company’s November response, it said it planned to address SELC’s questions by performing analyses of processed water, but test results were never provided.

Then, last month, the Corps published a notice concerning Twin Pines’ new proposal to conduct a “demonstration project” on 898 acres—only 300 acres less than in their first application for the mine’s first phase. This approach is a brazen end-run around environmental review under our nation's bedrock environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act, that requires a third-party to examine the project’s impacts through an environmental impact statement.

“Despite its attempts to move the goal posts on a massive project like this, the reality is that Twin Pines has not and cannot show that the proposed mine will not harm the Okefenokee Swamp, one of the most treasured wetlands in the country and one of the largest intact freshwater ecosystems in the world,” said Sapp.  “The significant problems with the company’s previous application efforts and its continued lack of transparency around the project give us little confidence that our concerns will be alleviated with this latest attempt.”

The Corps’ own staff has strongly recommended that the agency require an environmental impact statement for the project, and SELC will continue to closely monitor any additional attempts by Twin Pines to sidestep the environmental review process.

The public comment period ends April 13. Those interested in helping to protect the treasured Okefenokee Swamp can submit a comment today.

Email comments to:

CESAS-SpecialProjects@usace.army.mil

Or submit comments in writing:

Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District

Attention: Ms. Holly Ross

1104 North Westover Boulevard, Suite 9, Albany, Georgia, 31707

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