Feds open Okefenokee mining plan to another round of public input

    People now have until May 28 to weigh in on a proposed mine near the Okefenokee Swamp after the Army Corps of Engineers extended a public comment period that was set to expire yesterday. Photo contributed by Joy Campbell.

    Fans of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Area will get more than six additional weeks to express their opinion about a proposed strip mine near Trail Ridge, an extension to give federal officials time to hold a virtual public meeting next month and then gather more public input.

    The Army Corps of Engineers extended the official comment period Monday, the day when it planned to close out comments on the mining plan by Alabama’s Twin Pines Minerals.

    Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the national nonprofit American Rivers lists the Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys River as one of the top 10 most endangered rivers this year due to potential damage from mining near the wildlife refuge.

    That echos concerns other environmentalists raised over the potential ecological damage a mine might cause if the Army Corps grants permission for a titanium mining operation several miles from the National Wildlife Refuge. Opponents say the Twin Pines project will inflict long term damage to the area’s ridge, habitat, and the streams that discharge into the swamp and the St. Marys and Suwannee rivers.

    Twin Pines Minerals revised plans this year call for mining 900 acres for rare heavy minerals along 2,400 acres near the unique blackwater wildlife refuge along the Florida-Georgia border. The new mining plan is downsized considerably from the one Twin Pines unveiled last summer to a storm of public opposition.

    The Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys debuted at  No. 8 on the most recent ranking of  America’s Most Endangered Rivers report, the only Georgia waterway on a list topped by the Upper Mississippi River.

    “America’s Most Endangered Rivers is a call to action,” Ben Emanuel, Atlanta-based Clean Water Supply Director with American Rivers, said in a news release. “Some places are simply too precious to allow risky mining operations, and the edge of the unique Okefenokee Swamp is one. The Army Corps of Engineers must deny the permit to save this national treasure.”

    The Okefenokee refuge is home to more than 600 plant species as well as indigo snakes, gopher tortoises, wood storks and other rare animals.

    “The Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys River define the communities and families of Southeastern Georgia,” said Alice Keyes, vice president of Coastal Conservation with One Hundred Miles. “Generations of Georgians have depended on this natural asset for food, jobs, and quality of life. No one corporation should be permitted to destroy that legacy for short-term gain.”

    Twin Pines released a study earlier this year indicating the ecological impact of mining in the area would be minimal. Once the mining operation is wrapped up, the soil will be reapplied and the strip-mined area will heal, the company claims.

    The mining project is supported by the Charlton County Commission, citing the impoverished county’s need for jobs. 

    Before extending the official comment period into May, the Army Corps received roughly 15,000 public comments on the Twin Pines project through the end of last week, just prior to the initial April 13 deadline. The new comment period includes a virtual public meeting scheduled for May 13  from 2- 5 p.m.

    “The public comment period was extended to include the upcoming virtual public workshop (online only) and to allow the public to submit more comments after the virtual meeting,” said Billy Birdwell, spokesman for the Savannah district. “We had originally planned for an in-person workshop but the nation’s response to the pandemic precluded such an event.”

    The thousands of comments pouring shows how much the public objects to this project, Georgia River Network executive director Rena Ann Peck said.

    “The extra time will be good to get more people and not just people but substantive comments  more scientists and hydrogeologists independently looking at the hydrological models Twin Pines put forward and ramifications of the effect of mining on this system,” she said.

    The initial Twin Pines proposal to mine more than 2,400 acres and study a potential expansion on 12,000 acres prompted more than 20,000 comments from the public

    Information on Twin Pines’ mining proposal

    The latest Twin Pines’ mining proposal can be found online at https://go.usa.gov/xvCh6.

    The extended public comment period ends on May 28. Comments can be sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Savannah district by email [email protected]

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.