EDITORIAL: Mining near swamp not worth the potential damages

Jan. 25—When was the last time a construction project at your house went off without a hitch? If you're like the rest of us, the answer is likely never. There is always something that goes wrong, something unexpected that makes the project take way too long or even causes damage to something else, making yet another project to fix it.

With that in mind, what makes anyone think the Twin Pines Minerals mining project — for which a plan submitted to the state Environmental Protection Division was released last week — will avoid similar snafus? The difference with the mining project is that when something goes wrong, one of Georgia's natural wonders and the largest blackwater swamp in North America will be the potential victim.

The plan, as noted by University of Georgia water resources professor Dr. C. Rhett Jackson, could increase the frequency of severe drought and have negative impacts on the ecology in the Okefenokee Swamp. If Twin Pines carries out its proposed plan to mine titanium and zirconium on 582 acres about 3 miles southeast of the swamp in Charlton County, it would do so with the intention to show that it can do so safely, without damaging the sensitive wetlands and swamp. Opposition to the operation is understandable and warranted, even after Twin Pines pulled back on its original intention to mine more than 8,000 acres.

Even with the more modest mining plan, the 1.13 million gallons of ground water per day that will have to be pumped out of the mining pit will lower water levels in the swamp, which will lead to drier swamp conditions and potentially catastrophic consequences, Jackson contends.

The plan also opens up a real possibility that process water, the water used in the mining process, could be released into tributaries of the St. Mary's River, which is already listed as impaired by the federal Environmental Protection Agency because of sediments, turbidity and dissolved oxygen. These are "all issues that would be exacerbated by discharges from the mine," Jackson said about the plan

He is an expert of high regard in the field of water resources. His assessment of the plan is rooted in science and what is best for the sensitive and fragile wetland ecosystem, not by profit.

The Okefenokee and the rivers it feeds as the headwaters of the St. Marys and Suwanee rivers is an environmental jewel unlike any place on earth. It deserves protection. It is home to what is considered the most remote place in Georgia, a designated dark sky area that is free of light pollution, countless species of flora and fauna, and is on the cusp of becoming a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Twin Pines claims it will use a leading edge mining-to-reclamation process as it mines just one to two acres at a time and will replant the mined area with native vegetation, leaving the site better than when it began. It also contends that the mining process will not impact the swamp at all.

In a perfect world, that may be true, but the world is far from perfect, and very few large scale projects go as planned. The mere possibility of negative impacts on the Okefenokee Swamp should be enough to stop the project altogether. We hope the powers that be see it the same way.