Okefenokee mining opponents express concerns as DNR board meets

Sep. 28—FARGO — The Georgia Board of Natural Resources met Tuesday near the edge of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Fargo to discuss land acquisitions, donations and easements.

Missing on the agenda was the topic many from across the state made the trek to Fargo to hear — the proposed mining project by Twin Pines Minerals near the world-famous swamp.

John Eunice, deputy director for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, mentioned the issue briefly during a presentation on environmental issues in the state.

He said Twin Pines' permit application to mine near the swamp is being evaluated. There will be a 60-day public comment period and at least one public hearing before a decision is made, he said.

None of the board members had any questions about the mining proposal.

Prior to the meeting, a group of opponents to mining met outside the meeting to discuss their concerns.

Joshua Marks, an Atlanta-based environmental lawyer who was involved in the successful opposition to a similar attempt by DuPont to mine near the Okefenokee 25 years ago, said he is not hearing the same opposition by government officials this time.

"For me, this is a sense of deja vu," he said.

"Since the last three years, since the project was announced, we have expressed to the Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Environmental Protection Division and the federal government concerns from the community multiple times."

Rhett Jackson, a University of Georgia hydrologist, said a study Twin Pines uses to support the mining project is "fatally flawed."

The swamp is very sensitive to drought, increased leakage and reduced water flows. He predicted water levels in the swamp will drop as a result of mining.

He also expressed concern about Hurricane Ian looming near the Gulf of Mexico. The storm is forecast to pass over the Okefenokee, dumping lots of rain in the region. The volume of water from the storm would be enough to cause the pits associated with mining heavy minerals to overflow, he said.

Jackson said he will ask the board of DNR to oppose granting a permit to mine near the swamp.'

"There are plenty of places where this can be done safely," Jackson said. "This is not the place to do mining."

The Rev. Antwon Nixon, a Folkston pastor, said many local residents have a "spiritual connection" to the Okefenokee.

"It is very important to protect the things God created," he said.

Nixon said he decided to get involved with opposing mining once he learned the potential impacts.

"We're heading down a road we can't recover from," he said.

While the company has promised good paying jobs, Nixon cautioned people to be wary.

"They made a lot of promises. That's what big companies do," he said. "We don't look at the consequences."

Drago Tesanovich, a Madison County resident, made the trip from North Georgia to caution people about his experience with the company that owns Twin Pines Minerals. The company told the public it would burn clean wood pellets to generate power. Instead, it burned chemical-laden railroad ties that created environmental problems, he said.

"They lied to us," he said.

Jackson told the audience Twin Pines has no intention of stopping once the tract they are seeking a permit for has been mined out.

"They want to keep mining north when they get done," he said.