Virtual Meeting on Proposed Okefenokee Swamp Mine Draws More Questions Than Answers
ATLANTA, GA—Today the Savannah District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a virtual public meeting concerning Twin Pines’ new application for the first phase of a 12,000-acre proposed mine on the southeastern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.
Unlike a traditional public hearing where concerned communities would have the opportunity to express opposition to a project through oral comments, attendees were limited to asking Corps staff and Twin Pines representatives specific questions about the proposal through questions emailed in advance or submitted through a chat feature during the virtual meeting.
Online presentations from mining company representatives took up more than two of the three hours allotted for the meeting, before Corps staff interjected in order to allow some time to take questions from meeting attendees.
In total, less than 35 minutes of the meeting was allotted for questions from the public. The 200 person limit to access the Corps’ WebEx presentation platform was maxed out by early afternoon the day before the meeting.
According to Corps staff moderating the call, there were several questions submitted about whether the agency would require Twin Pines to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This line of questioning follows the Corps’ staff recommendation in December 2019 to require Twin Pines to complete an EIS—aligning with calls from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service—Twin Pines told the Corps that it would be “unacceptable for [its] business” to do an EIS.
In response to today’s virtual meeting, the following statement is from Bill Sapp, SELC Senior Attorney:
“Twin Pines has not and cannot show that its proposed project will not have an unacceptable adverse impact on the Okefenokee Swamp—today’s presentations by mining company representatives did nothing to change that fact.
“We are glad that the Corps has granted additional time to allow the public to weigh in on a proposal that carries such high stakes for the Okefenokee Swamp. Tens of thousands of Georgians and out of state visitors have already expressed significant concerns, and we hope local and statewide communities will continue to make their voices heard about the prospect of mining right next to one of the nation’s most important natural treasures.”
Twin Pines withdrew its initial permit application to mine 1,268 acres in the first phase of the proposed project in late February, days after the company released its flawed hydrology study. On March 13, Twin Pines submitted a new application to mine 898 acres, compared to its previous application for over 1,200 acres.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) sent a letter to the Corps requesting a 90-day extension on the comment period as a result of Covid-19 and the voluminous documents submitted by Twin Pines to support its application. The Corps granted an extension to accept public comments until May 28.
Regarding the May 13 virtual meeting, the Corps has stated it will include comments submitted via chat in the final public comment tally as the agency would in an in-person public meeting. According to the Corps, questions emailed in advance and asked through the chat box during the meeting will be preserved in the public record.