News | November 15, 2022

Lawsuit challenges Army Corps decision imperiling wetlands near Okefenokee

Agency’s unlawful reversal leaves nearly 600 acres of wetlands without federal protection against strip mine

In federal court, we just challenged a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to unlawfully reinstate a jurisdictional ruling that removed Clean Water Act protections from almost 600 acres of wetlands on the doorstep of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. 

“The Corps’ decision to reinstate the jurisdictional determinations runs counter to its internal guidance, reasoned decision-making, and common sense,” says Senior Attorney Megan Huynh.  

A day in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The Okefenokee is one of the largest remaining intact freshwater ecosystems in North America. In addition to its ecological significance, the refuge is critically important to local communities, supporting over 750 jobs and nearly $65 million in annual economic output per year. As recognized by the Corps, the swamp is also important to Native American nations with ancestral homelands in the region. 

“Not only are the at-risk wetlands valuable in their own right, but they are important to the health of the irreplaceable Okefenokee Swamp,” Huynh adds. “To comply with the Clean Water Act, the Corps must require Twin Pines to obtain a federal permit and complete a full environmental review of the mining project.” 

We’re representing the National Wildlife Refuge Association, National Parks Conservation Association, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity in our lawsuit that details how the Corps’ action opens wetlands critical to the health of the iconic Okefenokee Swamp to destruction by a strip-mining operation. 

“There is only one Okefenokee Swamp and we treasure it as one of the crown jewels of the National Wildlife Refuge System,” says Geoffrey Haskett, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “It is simply too valuable to risk for a mineral that can be found in many other places. This is clearly the wrong place for a mine.” 

Georgia simply cannot afford to let Twin Pines gamble with the health of these world-renowned wetlands.

Christian Hunt, Defenders of Wildlife

Christian Hunt, senior federal lands policy analyst with Defenders of Wildlife, agrees. 

“The science is clear: large-scale industrial mining right next to the refuge could forever scar the Okefenokee and threaten the existence of more than a thousand species that find sanctuary on these lands,” he says. “Georgia simply cannot afford to let Twin Pines gamble with the health of these world-renowned wetlands.” 

Projects like the massive titanium mine proposed by Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, benefitted from the short-lived Navigable Waters Protection Rule’s gutting of long-standing federal clean water protections.

The Corps rescinded those determinations in June 2022. But the agency then unlawfully reinstated the determinations without notice or explanation, following an out-of-court settlement in August between the agency and Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals. 

A frog pokes its head above the surface of the water in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, in Folkston, GA.

“Titanium may be valuable, but you can find it almost anywhere. In contrast, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is priceless and unique, and there is no metal on earth worth damaging it,” says Dr. Chris Watson, campaign director, Southeast Regional Office, National Parks Conservation Association. “The Clean Water Act provides key safeguards for the Okefenokee, keeping the waters we drink, fish and swim clean for all. Why jeopardize that for a mining operation?” 

Now wetlands critical to the Okefenokee Swamp’s hydrology and ecology are again slated to be destroyed by a proposed strip mine without federal clean water and other protections. 

“From imperiled red-cockaded woodpeckers to alligator snapping turtles, the Okefenokee supports astounding biodiversity that the Army Corps is failing to protect,” says Elise Bennett, Florida Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “That’s why we’re fighting to safeguard this incredibly special place from strip mining.”

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