Announced yesterday to press across Georgia and beyond, the titanium mine near Georgia and Florida’s Okefenokee Swamp proposed by Twin Pines Minerals of Alabama made the Georgia Water Coalition Dirty Dozen (see also PDF).
You can still file a comment with the Army Corps and GA-EPD asking them to reject the mine or at least require an Environmental Impact Statement. Convenience for miners is no excuse to risk the fishing, boating, and birding in the swamp and hunting and forestry nearby.
Closeup of TPM equipment on mine site from GA 94 westbound.
Photo: John S. Quarterman for WWALS, November 14, 2019
Worst Offenses Against
OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, ST. MARYS AND SUWANNEE RIVERS
Proposed 2,400-Acre Titanium Mine Threatens Signature Landscape of Georgia
Twenty years ago when chemical giant DuPont proposed mining titanium dioxide ore near the Okefenokee Swamp, opposition to the plan was so strong— from local environmental groups all the way up to the Secretary of the Interior—that the company ultimately abandoned its plans. Now, like a monster in a horror film returning from the dead, a new proposal to mine near the largest blackwater wetland in the United States is on the table. Twin Pines Minerals, LLC has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for environmental permits that will allow the company to destroy 587 acres of wetlands and 1.4 miles of streams to strip mine on some 2,400 acres of land located within four miles of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The longterm health of the Okefenokee and the rivers it feeds now hang on the decisions of these federal and state agencies.
THE WATER BODY:
The Okefenokee Swamp is a signature landscape of Georgia. Covering 438,000 acres, it is considered the largest blackwater wetland in North America and virtually all of it—some 630 square miles in Charlton, Ware, Brantley and Clinch counties as well as Baker County in Florida— is protected as the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It is home to a dizzying array of wildlife, with more than 400 species of vertebrates, including 200 varieties of birds and 60 kinds of reptiles. From the swamp flow the St. Marys River to the east, and the fabled Suwannee River to the southwest. These rivers and the swamp are popular tourist and recreation destinations. A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report estimated that the National Wildlife Refuge hosts some 650,000 visits annually and generates some $60 million in revenue annually while creating 750 jobs in Georgia and Florida. In addition to supporting local economies, each year the swamp also provides ecological services like storm protection, water quality, commercial fishing habitat and carbon storage that are worth as much as $125,000,000.
In the 1990s when DuPont proposed mining along Trail Ridge, the sand ridge bordering the swamp on the east, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt urged DuPont to abandon its plans, telling reporters:
“Titanium is a common mineral, while the Okefenokee is a very uncommon swamp.” The fight ended with DuPont abandoning its plans and the permanent protection of some 16,000 acres of land originally slated for mining.
Fast forward 20 years and the Department of Interior is now greasing the skids for mining by classifying titanium as a “critical mineral” for the country’s economy and security.
In other words, in today’s political climate, don’t look for a white knight from the Interior Department riding in to stop the ill-conceived mining plan.
Meanwhile, the documents Twin Pines submitted to federal and state regulators are sorely lacking in information about how much ground and surface water the mine will use as and how the mining will impact the hydrology of the area as the company digs 5,000 square-foot ditches to an average depth of 50 feet in pursuit of the mineral.
What details are available in the company’s permit applications show that the company would withdraw groundwater from the Floridan aquifer that underlies the swamp—the very same water that helps maintain water levels within the swamp.
During the public comment period that ended in September, more than 20,000 people submitted their views to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). Among the entities providing letters of concern were both state and federal agencies.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told the Corps, “there is potential for this project as proposed to cause adverse effects to water quality and…wildlife dependent on aquatic systems.”
Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) wrote, “We feel it is inappropriate and premature to close the project comment window when such notable elements of the environmental documentation for this project have not yet been made available.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expressed concerns about the mining taking place in habitat for the federally protected indigo snake and gopher tortoise.
If permits are approved by the Corps and EPD, it will open 2,424 acres to mining in the near term, but Twin Pines’ long range plans call for mining some 12,000 acres.
More equipment being delivered
Photo: John S. Quarterman for WWALS, November 14, 2019
WHAT MUST BE DONE:
Because Twin Pines’ applications lack critical information about mining practices, water withdrawals and discharges and hydrological impacts, the Corps must deny the wetlands permit for the project and EPD must deny the surface mining permit and water withdrawal permits. Before moving forward, a thorough study of the project’s impacts, known an Environmental Impact Statement, must be required.
TPM Equipment closeup, Wayne Morgan for WWALS on Southwings flight, pilot Allen Nodorft, October 5, 2019.
Top: Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, an Alabama-based mining company, has submitted applications to secure state and federal environmental permits to allow the company to mine for titanium on 2,400 acres of land near the Okefenokee Swamp.
Above: The Okefenokee Swamp is North America’s largest blackwater wetland. It is home to more than 400 species of vertebrates, including a large population of American alligators.
For More Information Contact:
Megan Desrosiers, Executive Director,
One Hundred Miles, 912-223-8608,
John S. Quarterman, Suwannee Riverkeeper,
WWALS Watershed Coalition, 229-242-0102,
See also the rest of the Georgia Water Coalition Dirty Dozen 2019.
Much more about this bad mining application is here:
Help Suwannee Riverkeeper save the Okefenokee Swamp
You can object to a titanium strip mine proposed far too near the Swamp.
GA-EPD has a public comment period open until March 20th on the Twin Pines Minerals Mining Land Use Plan.
You can email or paper mail your comments, or join one of two zoom webinars.
Land Protection Branch,
4244 International Parkway,
Atlanta Tradeport- Suite 104,
Atlanta, Georgia 30354
Zoom Meeting Registration February 21 or 23, 2023
You can write to your Georgia state representative or senator or governor or lieutenant governor and ask them to refuse any such instrument.
Here's a convenient comment form by Georgia Water Coalition:
Or to find your legislator you can type in your ZIP code here: http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/
These are the Georgia state Senators with districts most involved with the Okefenokee Swamp:
- District 003 Senator Sheila McNeil (R-Brunswick) (Brantley County), (404) 656-9644, 912.464.1989, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com With the new redistricting, District 3 will include all of Charlton County, including the mine site.
- District 008, Senator Russ Goodman (R-Lake Park) (Lowndes, Lanier, Echols, Clinch, Cook, Brooks, and Thomas Counties), (404) 656-7454, 912-218-0447, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com With the new redistricting, Senate District 8 no longer will include any of Charlton County, so not the mine site, but it will include the south and west parts of Ware County, so the Okefenokee Swamp west of the mine site.
- District 007 Senator Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) (Tift, Berrien, Irwin, Ben Hill, Coffee, Bacon, Atkinson, Ware, and Charlton Counties), (404) 463-5263, firstname.lastname@example.org. His district includes the Okefenokee Swamp, and he is the Chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee. With the new redistricting, Senate District 7 goes away entirely, being absorbed by District 8 and District 3.
These are the Georgia state Representatives with districts most involved:
- 174, John Corbett, R - Lake Park, 404-656-0213, email@example.com. District 174 district includes the mine site. With the new redistricting, it will also include the rest of Charlton County.
- 180, Steven Sainz, R - Woodbine, 404.656.0177, firstname.lastname@example.org, Charlton and Ware Counties. With the new redistricting, District 180 will not include any of Charlton County; only Camden County and a bit of Glynn County.
- 176, James Burchett, R - Waycross, 404.656.0188, email@example.com, Lowndes, Lanier, Atkinson, and Ware Counties. With the new redistricting, also a bit of Coffee County.
- 177, Dexter Sharper, D - Valdosta, 404.656.0126, firstname.lastname@example.org, Lowndes County. Valdosta is the most populous city in the Suwannee River Basin in Georgia or Florida.
You can also write to your U.S. Representative or Senator and ask them to urge the Corps to take back up its oversight of the mine site. See former letter from Rep. Al Lawson (FL-05).
For the requested Georgia state permit regarding Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, you can send a comment or request for public hearing to
Stephen Wiedl, Wetlands Unit, email@example.com
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, Water Protection Branch, 7 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30334.
Be sure to mention Applicant: Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, Application Number: SAS-2018-00554.
For the Georgia Coastal Management Program certification, you can send a comment to
Federal Consistency Coordinator, Ecological Services Section, Coastal Resources Division,
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, One Conservation Way, Brunswick, Georgia 31523-9600
You can also write to the Georgia DNR board, asking them to refuse any such instrument.
Georgia Board of Natural Resources
2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, SE, Suite 1252, Atlanta, GA 30334
To submit a letter to the editor of the Charlton County Herald,
you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or write to your local newspaper.
You can also contact radio, TV, and of course post on social media.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!