Rule change could allow mining near Okefenokee Swamp

Rule change could allow mining near Okefenokee Swamp

OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, Ga. (WTOC) - A revised law could allow mining near one of Georgia’s natural treasures, the Okefenokee Swamp.

Those against the mining project say it could be disastrous for the swamp’s ecosystem and could even contaminate local drinking water.

President Trump repealed Waters of the United States Rule and his administration crafted The Navigable Waters Rule. The new rule, meant to help farmers, changes the definition of protected waters.

In June the new definition of protected water ways went into effect.

Since then the mining company, Twin Pines, asked the Army Corps of Engineers to look at the proposed area to see if it still fell under a definition of a wetland.

“Our attitude did not change, but the rules changed, and we followed the rules strictly," said Senior Public Affairs Specialist Billy E. Birdwell, Savannah District, US Army Corps of Engineers.

The Georgia Rivers Network says the area proposed to be mined is still very much an intertwined with the health of the Okefenokee.

“I want people to understand it’s not high and dry on Trail Ridge at all; it is the same systems you see in the Okefenokee, and where there are water trails, they’re not deep, they’re two feet deep, so there’s not a lot of wiggle room to mess up the water level of the swamp,” said Rena Peck, Executive Director of Georgia River Network.

Twin Pines for the first time responded to our request for comment. President Steve Ingle said in part, “We can now provide hundreds of good-paying jobs to Charlton County while providing this service - all without any impact to waters of the United States.”

This is now an issue that Governor Kemp will have to decide whether or not to permit the mining.

The Georgia River Network has set up an online petition which you can find here.

Statement from Steve Ingle, president, Twin Pines Minerals, LLC regarding Changes to the Proposed Mine Site

"The footprint of the proposed titanium mine project has been significantly reduced. In consultation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we have reduced the size of the proposed mine in Charlton County to less than 600 acres, and we have reconfigured its footprint to ensure there will be no impact to “waters of the United States” as defined by the new Navigable Waters Protection Rule.

Because waters of the United States will not be affected, no federal permits will be required. Numerous permits will still be required from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, however, which will ensure the environment is protected. We will continue to work with Georgia EPD to move forward with the project in an environmentally responsible way. The surface mine area will be restored, after mining, to the existing topography.

We look forward to proceeding with our project to validate what science has already shown: that essential minerals can be recovered from Trail Ridgewithout affecting water levels in the Okefenokee Swamp and without harming the environment in any other way. There is no risk to the swamp because we are far enough away (more than 3 miles), and because all mining will occur at an elevation higher than the swamp. 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.We are in complete agreement that the Okefenokee is a natural treasure, which we want to preserve as much as those who have opposed our proposal.

This project will produce substantial benefits to the nation—for the national economy as well as national security—and for Charlton County. The mine will produce “critical minerals,” such as titanium dioxide, that our country lacks capacity to produce in the quantities we need, but that our federal government has declared to be “essential to the economic and national security of the United States.” We can now provide hundreds of good-paying jobs to Charlton County while providing this service to the nation—all without any impact to waters of the United States."

Previous stories:

Copyright 2020 WTOC. All rights reserved.