Valdosta council opposes swamp mine plan –VDT 2021-11-17

The Valdosta resolution could influence the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA-EPD) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), especially through elected state and national officials. So it doesn’t matter that the head of the LLC from Alabama that wants to strip mine next to the Okefenokee says that resolution won’t affect his decisions.

You can help influence by talking to your elected officials or by writing to GA-EPD:

Terry Richards, Valdosta Daily Times, November 17, 2021, Valdosta council opposes swamp mine plan,

[Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson; Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman; Map: Okefenokee Swamp, Valdosta, mine site]
Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson; Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman; Map: Okefenokee Swamp, Valdosta, mine site

VALDOSTA — An Alabama-based mining concern said a resolution by Valdosta’s city council won’t stop them from starting a controversial South Georgia mining project.

“The Valdosta City Council’s resolution has no impact on our plans whatsoever,” said Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines Minerals, in a statement.

Valdosta City Council voted Nov. 11 to oppose Twin Pines’ plans to start a mining project near the Okefenokee Swamp, about 75 miles from Valdosta. The vote was 6-0; Councilman Sonny Vickers was not present.

Twin Pines has submitted permit applications to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for a demonstration heavy minerals project in Charlton County, according to a fact sheet from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The northern boundary of the proposed site is 2.9 miles southeast of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The Army Corps of Engineers had been involved in permit review for the proposed mine until then-President Donald Trump restricted the types of waterways the Corps had power over. Now state authorities must go it alone in permitting for the mine.

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

Photo: Gretchen Quarterman, alligator in the Okefenokee Swamp

The VDT story continues:

Several organizations, including Georgia’s Sierra Club, have voiced opposition to the mining plan. Both of Georgia’s senators — John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock — have asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review the project to insure there is no impact on the swamp.

Four U.S. Senators ask U.S. FWS to assist GA-EPD against mine too near the Okefenokee Swamp 2021-04-28,

[Letter, Mine site, Senators, Signatures]
Letter, Mine site, Senators, Signatures

We write to you regarding the proposed heavy mineral sands mine near Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia and the ongoing permit review process. Due to the potential impact nearby mining activity could have on native species, basin hydrology, and the overall integrity of the refuge, we ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to provide the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) with added resources and support in reviewing all relevant permit applications. These decisions deserve careful environmental review and robust public participation because of the tremendous ecological and cultural value of the Okefenokee Refuge.

The Okefenokee Refuge is a crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System. As the largest refuge east of the Mississippi, the ecosystem is unparalleled in beauty and wildlife biodiversity, including several federally listed species like the wood stork, eastern indigo snake, and redcockaded woodpecker. It is among the nation’s most visited refuges, providing an economic foundation for surrounding communities by attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists annually….

“The Okefenokee is a sacred natural resource. It is a wildlife refuge that must be protected,” said U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff, responding to a question by Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman, [May 6, 2021], in Valdosta, Georgia.

[Sen. Ossoff: Okefenokee is a sacred natural resource]
Sen. Ossoff: Okefenokee is a sacred natural resource

“We have a lot of titanium, but we only have one Okefenokee Swamp,” said U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, very early Saturday morning in Valdosta, Georgia.

[U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, Gretchen Quarterman]
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, WWALS Executive Director Gretchen Quarterman

Back to yesterday’s VDT article:

John Quarterman, the Suwannee Riverkeeper with the WWALS Watershed Coalition, believes there would be bad news for the Okefenokee if the mine goes ahead.

“Digging there could stir up mercury that was deposited from the air by a coal plant 100 miles away,” he said. That mercury could make its way into the food chain through fish, causing health concerns, he said.

“The last thing we need is more mercury getting into the waterways,” he said.

[Mercury Deposition USA 2009]
Figure 3: Total Mercury Wet Deposition, 2009 (NADP) CC by 4.0 (see Deny or EIS, titanium mining near Okefenokee Swamp –Suwannee Riverkeeper for WWALS 2019-09-12)

Twin Pines has also applied to the state for permission to pump out groundwater from the regional aquifer as part of the mining process.

[Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman]
Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman

“Draining water (from the aquifer) impacts drinking water supplies and agriculture,” Quarterman said. “Lowering the aquifer — how does it affect the swamp? No one knows.”

In its water application, Twin Pines says its water needs will be minor without any significant impact.

Valdosta is concerned about the proposed mine because so many people enjoy visiting the Okefenokee’s scenic beauty and natural resources, said Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson.

“I reached out to the Georgia EPD, which gave an assurance they wouldn’t do anything to endanger the swamp,” he said.

[Mayor Scott James Matheson]
Mayor Scott James Matheson

“This is something we promote as a tourist draw … If we didn’t do something, we would have lost an opportunity,” the mayor said in reference to the council’s resolution.

[Location of proposed Twin Pines Minerals Mine]
Location of proposed Twin Pines Minerals Mine

In his statement, Twin Pines president Steve Ingle said “We are answerable to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPD’s experts are evaluating our permit application and the extensive studies that show our mining methods will protect the Okefenokee and surrounding environs. They will make a determination based on the facts and science of our application.”

Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.

Sounds like Steve Ingle admits the burden of proof is on the miners to prove the mine would not harm the Okefenokee Swamp, the Floridan Aquifer, or the Suwannee and St Marys Rivers. That’s a burden the miners have not shouldered.

Remember to talk to your elected officials or write to GA-EPD:

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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