Okefenokee news in the Georgia runoff elections 2020-12-29

The mine and the Swamp and the Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs are in the news, in the Albany Herald, the Saporta Report, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, plus my op-ed last week in the Valdosta Daily Times.

You can also contact the governor, the runoff candidates, and other elected officials:

For why, see the Georgia Water Coalition Dirty Dozen.

[Mine, Swamp, River, Bird]
Mine, Swamp, River, Bird

So far, the only statement we’ve seen from any Georgia runoff candidate is in the AJC article:

Jenni Sweat, a spokeswoman for Perdue, said the office received regular updates on the Twin Pines project as they do with many other Corps projects. “This presents an economic development opportunity in rural Southeast Georgia that local officials support, and our office has monitored its status through the federal and state regulatory process,” said Sweat in a statement.

Let’s also hear from the other U.S. Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff, Kelly Loeffler, and Raphael Warnock. And let’s hear from candidates for Public Service Commission, Daniel Blackman, and Lauren Bubba McDonald. If nothing else, the miners will probably want more electric power for their mine site, so that makes it a PSC issue, too.

Albany Herald

Staff reports, Albany Herald, 29 December 2020, Environmental groups ask governor to stop mine near Okefenokee,

HAHIRA — Environmental groups, including the Suwannee Riverkeeper and the WWALS Watershed Coalition, have sent a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp asking him to stop the proposed titanium strip mine from being allowed within a few miles of the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia and north Florida.

The letter, which lays out evidence to support the groups’ request, states: “Georgia is all that stands between a titanium strip mine within a few miles of the Okefenokee Swamp, proposed by coal miners from Alabama. Please direct the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to thoroughly examine the five state permit applications from Twin Pines Minerals. The evidence indicates DNR should reject those applications. At the least, an environmental review equivalent to an Environmental Impact Statement should be conducted.”

Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman said the letter to Kemp was a vital last resort.

“We’re asking everyone else to ask Georgia to stop this strip mine too near the Okefenokee Swamp, so it was time to send a letter to Gov. Kemp,” Quarterman said.

The letter says, in part:

The Suwannee Riverkeeper letter is here:

The Albany Herald summarized the slimy problem:

The letter reminds the governor that he signed a law to stop railroad ties from being burned at a biomass plant promoted by the current president of the company that wants to strip mine. It notes that the same company is still under a Florida Consent Order, and spilled wastewater during Hurricane Irma.

The letter asks for an accounting of Twin Pines’ plan to prevent spills during hurricanes, including of slimes (tiny particles of clay and titanium dioxide that can foul the gills of fish) and mercury that came by air from coal power plants? Where is its plan to keep wastewater from getting into the Floridan Aquifer or from lowering the aquifer and swamp levels?

See also the Waterkeepers Florida letter:

And the Suwannee Riverkeeper op-ed in the Valdosta Daily Times last week:

Saporta Report

David Pendered, Saporta Report, 27 December 2020, Senate runoff: Okefenokee Swamp represents environmental, security concerns,

The fate of a proposed strip mine near the Okefenokee Swamp represents environmental and national security issues at stake in the Senate runoff in Georgia.

Along with the hard power of Senate control is the soft power that Georgia senators wield among their colleagues regarding the proposed strip mine in Southeast Georgia. An historic practice is for senators to defer to the wishes of the two senators from a state on affairs that affect that state. Any opposition to the strip mine that’s voiced by Georgia senators could influence matters related to the proposed mine.

Meanwhile, a new wrinkle has emerged in the debate over the proposed strip mine.

On Dec. 10, the U.S Commerce Department published a notice of request for public comments related to an investigation into the national security issue of the supply of a material that can be created from the sands to be mined near the Okefenokee Swamp. The deadline for public comment is Jan. 21, 2021.

The refined product is sponge titanium, which can be processed from mineral sands of the type to be mined from near the swamp. Sponge titanium is used in military and civilian products. The U.S. imports nearly all its titanium sponge, from Russia and Japan. According to the request for comments, the commerce secretary reviewed the import situation and determined that:

“titanium sponge imports threatened to impair the national security, and stated that there is a risk of the United States being completely dependent on imports of titanium sponge and could therefore lack surge capacity required to support defense and critical industries needs in an extended national emergency.”

A working group has permanent members representing the departments of commerce, defense, interior and state. Other federal entities rotate in and out as their expertise is needed, according to the notice on the Federal Registry.

As the situation with the proposed strip mine now stands, the only approval needed is from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The federal government has withdrawn from the review, because of the June revision of a provision of the Clean Water Act.

There’s more in that article, which is well worth reading.

Also remember, from my letter to the governor:

The Twin Pines hydrology report does not account for slimes, which are tiny particles of clay and titanium dioxide that, according to USGS, could cause “smothering of organisms living in bottom sediment.” https://doi.org/10.3133/pp1802 Mining would also stir up mercury deposited by air from coal power plants. https://wwals.net/?p=50140#mercury Yet Twin Pines has no plan to prevent wastewater spills during hurricanes. A presidential order the day after that USGS report required “a plan to improve the topographic, geologic, and geophysical mapping of the United States and make the resulting data and metadata electronically accessible…” https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-executive-order-federal-strategy-ensure-secure-reliable-supplies-critical-minerals/ Where is TPM’s map of percentages of these slimes in all intended mining areas, with comparisons to percentages on other sites?

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Nedra Rhone, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 28 December 2020, Fight over mining proposal near Okefenokee draws national spotlight,

In winter, visitors to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge can hear the loud bugle call of the sandhill crane. If it’s warm, lethargic alligators may emerge from their burrows to soak up the sun. The sights and sounds of hundreds of wildlife species have helped secure the Okefenokee Swamp’s status as an environment of national importance. And it’s why environmental advocates have spent more than a year fighting a proposal that could allow a mineral mining operation within 400 feet of the swamp’s edge.

Supporters say the project can be done without harming the swamp and would be an economic driver bringing jobs to an area that desperately needs them. The project is among the highest-profile developments to fall under new federal rules, freeing it from federal oversight and putting a national spotlight on Georgia.

As usual, Twin Pines Minerals contradicts itself:

“The studies we have done are comprehensive and conclusive and detailed in our submissions to federal and state officials,” said Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines, noting that new modeling data was most recently provided to the state Environment Protection Division in November as part of the permit submission. They are currently preparing additional reports requested by the agency, he said.

If TPM’s submissions were comprehensive and conclusive, why are they having to send more?

The agency is the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA-EPD). Since the Army Corps abdicated responsibility, Georgia is all that stands between the miners and the Swamp.

According to Britannica,

Lobbying, any attempt by individuals or private interest groups to influence the decisions of government….

But Twin Pines redefines the word to suit itself:

Some opponents of the mining operation have suggested that political donations from Twin Pines have helped push the project forward, but Ingle, while acknowledging lobbying efforts over the past two years, said he has done nothing to influence politicians to act on his behalf. “There is a misperception in the public that politicians can do something, or would try, but the fact is with regard to our project, the process is the process and they can’t change it,” he said.

Nevermind the process changed radically when the Army Corps abdicated oversight.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spelled out to Senator David Perdue a year ago: https://wwals.net/?p=52533

“It is the responsibility of the permit applicant to demonstrate what the extent of impacts of the project will be to surrounding natural resources.”

Yet mine supporters such as Joe Hopkins, who owns much more land north of the Twin Pines land, and right next to the Swamp, says it backwards: “I can’t see any scientific evidence that this is a threat to the Okefenokee Swamp.”

According to Economic Impact on TPM’s own website, “Total capital investment proposed by Twin Pines Minerals, LLC for the project is $300 million.”

Yet TPM now claims:

Ingle said opponents of the project have far greater influence and even deeper pockets than Twin Pines. He contends that the proposal has strong local support in Charlton County.

Show me any environmental groups that have, even all put together, anywhere near $300 million.

[Trail Ridge Land LLC]
Trail Ridge Land LLC

The Fish and Wildlife Service also told Sen. Purdue last year:

“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,”

The AJC quotes Ingle:

“We are beginning with a demonstration project to prove the technology is superior and that the Okefenokee will be unharmed,” he said. “If we can’t prove that, we’re out of business.”

GA-EPD should not let TPM get a foothold to mine ever-close to the Okefenokee Swamp, the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys Rivers, above the Floridan Aquifer, from which we all drink in south Georgia and north Florida.

Sure, there are other titanium mines up and down Trail Ridge in Georgia and Florida, but none anywhere near that close to the Swamp.

[Map: Mines, River basins]
Map: Mines, River basins in the WWALS map of all public landings in the Suwannee River Basin; map background copyright Google.

Georgia should send Twin Pines Minerals back to Alabama.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!

[124733866 10157868616486045 3900254515887275640 Photo: Gretchen Quarterman, of Suwannee Riverkeeper on the Suwannee River in Okefenokee Swamp]
124733866 10157868616486045 3900254515887275640 Photo: Gretchen Quarterman, of Suwannee Riverkeeper on the Suwannee River in Okefenokee Swamp; map background copyright google.