Okefenokee mining plan released

Jan. 19—A plan to mine near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was released Thursday by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

The draft plan by Twin Pines Minerals describes how the Alabama-based company would mine for heavy minerals on a tract less than three miles from the southern boundary of the world-famous swamp.

To view the plans, visit epd.georgia.gov/twin-pines. The EPD is accepting public comments for the next 60 days. Comments can be submitted to twinpines.comment@dnr.ga.gov or by mail to the EPD Land Protection Branch at 4244 International Parkway, Atlanta Tradeport, Ste. 104, Atlanta, GA 30354.

Opponents say mining near the Okefenokee could permanently damage the swamp's ability to hold water. Twin Pines officials argue mining will have minimal impacts.

Steve Ingle, president for Twin Pines, said Thursday's announcement was an "important milestone in the permitting process."

"This is a great opportunity for people to learn the truth about what our operations will and will not do, and the absurdity of allegations that our shallow mining-to-land-reclamation process will 'drain the swamp' or harm it in any way," Stewart said.

C. Rhett Jackson, professor of water resources at the University of Georgia, described the plan as "deeply flawed." He said mining will make droughts more frequent and severe in the eastern portion of the swamp and increase the probability of wildfires.

"EPD has skewed its analysis of the effects of the mine's water withdrawals by analyzing their effects on flows far downstream on the St Marys, where the watershed and average discharge are over four times larger than where the river exits the swamp," Jackson said.

Mining will "triple the frequency of severe drought" in the swamp's southeastern portion and the upper St Marys River, he said.

"Such an increase in drought frequency will have substantial effects on swamp ecology, wildfire frequency and boating access for tourism, management and scientific purposes," Jackson said.

The mining land use plan "completely fails" to address the issue of salt buildup downwind of the wastewater evaporation system, he said.

"If the proposed evaporation process doesn't work consistently, there is no plan for monitoring or addressing discharges of process water to the tributaries of the St Marys River," he said. "The EPA already lists the St Marys River as impaired for sediments, turbidity and dissolved oxygen, all issues that would be exacerbated by discharges from the mine."

Josh Marks, an Atlanta lawyer who helped lead the fight to stop DuPont from mining near the Okefenokee in the 1990s, also expressed concerns about Twin Pines' plans.

"Twin Pines Minerals' dangerous proposal to strip mine along the hydrologic boundary of the Okefenokee would be a massive threat to the swamp's integrity even if Twin Pines Minerals was a flawless, experienced operator," Marks said.

The company has no experience developing titanium mines, and has a "laundry list of violations and misrepresentations," the most recent of which being its apparent violation of state law governing its exploratory drilling and data collection when it was developing the project, Marks said.

"Simply put, Twin Pines Minerals can't be trusted to operate in the middle of a desert much less next to Georgia's greatest natural treasure," Marks said.