This week, back-to-back public meetings in southeast Georgia drew large crowds from all over the state with concerns about a proposed titanium mine close to the Okefenokee Swamp—a pristine and unique wetland home to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which has been designated a National Natural Landmark and nominated as a World Heritage Site.
Twin Pines Minerals submitted an application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July for a permit to mine for titanium and other rare metals that can be found in thin layers buried under the sandy bank called Trail Ridge that stretches along the eastern edge of the swamp.
In its application, Twin Pines proposes scraping off the layer of top soil, digging up to 70-feet deep into the wetlands and sandy soils on site, separating out the heavy metals from the sandy soil and a spongy layer called humate, and then attempting to put all of the layers back together again in a way that maintains the hydraulic functionality of the wetlands.
In addition to significant questions around how the company intends to restore the 520 acres of wetlands within the site, local residents and visitors to the refuge are concerned the mining operations could harm the hydrology of the swamp and impact the flow of groundwater. Hundreds of Georgians, looking for more details, attended three separate meetings convened by the mining company and the Charlton County Commission this week in Folkston and St. George, Georgia.
“I'm not a fearmongerer...I'm just highly concerned about an unproven method coming into a natural habitat that we can't put back.”
—Joanna Jacobs, Georgia resident
"I'm not a fearmongerer,” Georgia resident Joanna Jacobs told Georgia Public Broadcasting at Tuesday’s hearing in Folkston. “I'm just highly concerned about an unproven method coming into a natural habitat that we can't put back."
SELC is preparing to file extensive comments raising questions about the site and the lack of information in the permitting process.
“We have serious concerns about Twin Pines Minerals’ plans for a proposed mine in such close proximity to the Okefenokee Swamp, one of Georgia’s most important natural treasures,” said Senior Attorney Bill Sapp. “Before moving forward with this application, it is critically important that Twin Pines, the Corps, and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division conduct more thorough studies to ensure that any mining activities would not result in harm to this special, world-renowned place.”
The proposal reminds many area residents of a similar plan from 20 years ago by DuPont Co. to put in a 38,000-acre mine along Trail Ridge. That plan generated so much public opposition that DuPont dropped the idea and donated about half of the proposed mine site to preservation.
Twin Pines has hired consultants who say they’ve studied the company’s current plans and find it “environmentally responsible,” but those reports have not been made available to the Corps or the public at this time.
One of the actions SELC will be urging is that the Corps must demand a full Environmental Impact Statement for this project before even considering issuing a permit, as an independent, scientific review is a critical first step in ensuring there is no irrevocable harm to one of Georgia’s most incredible environmental wonders.
For those interested in weighing in on the permit on or before the September 12th deadline, comments can be submitted by email to [email protected], or by mail by sending to: Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah Division, Attention: Ms. Holly Ross, 1104 North Westover Boulevard, Suite 9, Albany, GA 31707.