U.S. Army Corps abdicates at Okefenokee Swamp, but titanium miners still need Georgia permits 2020-10-19

Update 2020-11-30: WWALS asks GA Gov. Kemp to stop strip mine near Okefenokee Swamp 2020-11-30.

Monday morning I heard from a mining source that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will soon announce that, due to federal rollback of the Waters of the U.S., the Corps no longer considers the streams next to the proposed mining site to be under Corps jurisdiction, even though they are far too near the Okefenokee Swamp.

Photo: Gretchen Quarterman, alligator in the Okefenokee Swamp

Twin Pines Minerals (TPM) lost no time announcing the next day that they intended to plow ahead. Molly Samuel, WABE, 20 October 2020, Proposed Mine Near Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp Gets A Major Hurdle Removed.

But TPM admits they still need five Georgia permits. So let’s try to stop those.

As we’ve been saying for a long time, please write to state and federal regulators, to the Georgia governor and the Georgia DNR board, and to state and federal elected officials. See below for how.

Also, there’s an election going on. As an IRS 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit, WWALS can’t tell you what candidate or party to vote for. But we can ask you to vote for the environment.

If the Okefenokee Swamp, which is the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys Rivers, is not protected, what is? If you live in south Georgia or north Florida, your drinking water probably comes from the Floridan Aquifer or groundwater above it, all of which can be adversely affected by strip mining or other pollution.

Please vote for the environment.

Georgians, don’t forget to vote for Amendment 1 while you’re voting.

Russ Bynum, Associated Press, 21 October 2020, Trump environmental rollback spurs mining near Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp.

The Army Corps reassessed certain wetlands at Twin Pines’ request after Trump’s new clean-water rules took effect in June. The agency confirmed Tuesday that, under the rules change, the tract would no longer require a federal permit.

“This property now has a large, contiguous, mineable area in the center of it because those wetlands have now been removed from our jurisdiction,” said Jason O’Kane, regulatory chief for the Army Corps’ Savannah District, which handled the Twin Pines permit application.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in a letter to the Army Corps a year ago that there was “great uncertainty” surrounding how mining near the swamp’s edge might affect its ability to hold water.

“The Service cannot definitively say that the mining proposal will significantly affect the environment,” the Fish and Wildlife letter said. “However, we have concerns that the proposed project could pose substantial risks for adverse impacts to (the Okefenokee refuge) and the surrounding environment that may be irreversible even with mitigation.”

[TPM President Steve] Ingle has long insisted his proposed mine would have a negligible impact on the swamp. All of the directly affected wetlands lie outside the Okefenokee’s boundaries.

“Our studies have shown that mining can be conducted safely, such that it will not impact the area’s waterways, groundwater systems, or the swamp itself,” Ingle said.

Ingle said his mining project still needs state-level permits from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division. The agency said Twin Pines has five applications pending, three of them dealing with regulation of state waters.

Regarding TPM’s claim of safe mining, remember that TPM also claimed on a permit application that it had permission to mine on lands owned by Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA). TIAA asked the Corps to revoke or revise TPM’s application because of that. The Corps declined to do anything, saying it knew all along.

Mary Landers, SavannahNow, 26 September 2020, Regulators seek no remedy for false claims on Okefenokee mining permit request,

State and federal regulators in Georgia say they won’t pursue penalties against a company that falsely claimed to control land it planned to mine near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA-EPD) is not known for rejecting permits. Yet this is a very unusual case, and we should all ask GA-EPD to reject TPM’s permits.

TPM won’t say what they will mine after their initial bite. But a year ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote to Georgia U.S. Senator Perdue saying that any additional mining would be closer to the refuge.

“The initial project location is the farthest that mining activity would be from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) boundary and the Okefenokee Swamp. Any additional mining that occurs within the 12,000-acre permit area would be closer to the refuge. The northwest boundary of the permit area is within a half mile from the refuge boundary and 400 feet from the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.”

How to comment

For the requested 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, stephen.wiedl@dnr.ga.gov
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, Water Protection Branch, 7 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30334.

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
Telephone 912-264-7218.

The public announcement says: “The applicant may also require assent from the State of Georgia, which may be in the form of a license, easement, lease, permit, or other appropriate instrument.”

You can write to your Georgia state representative or senator or governor or lieutenant governor and ask them to refuse any such instrument.
To find your legislator you can type in your ZIP code here: http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/

The Okefenokee Protection Alliance has a convenient form for writing to the Georgia Governor.

You can also write to your U.S. Representative or Senator and ask them to urge the Corps to reject this mine or at least require an EIS, like Rep. Al Lawson (FL-05) already did.

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 editor@charltonherald.com.
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®

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