Aug. 24—The fate of a proposed titanium mine near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge will now be determined by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
The decision is part of a settlement Monday between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Twin Pines Minerals, the Alabama-based company proposing to mine near the south end of the world-famous swamp.
"This is great news for Twin Pines, for our project, and for Charlton County," said Twin Pines President Steve Ingle. "We appreciate the Corps' willingness to reverse itself and make things right. We look forward to working with Georgia EPD to complete the permit process so we can bring hundreds of good-paying jobs, tax revenues, and economic development to the people of Charlton County."
Joshua Marks, an environmental lawyer who was a leader in the fight against the unsuccessful DuPont mining attempt next to the Okefenokee in the 1990s, expressed surprise at the decision.
"It's baffling that the Corps of Engineers has reinstated decisions that were based on the Trump wetland rule that was invalidated by two federal courts," Marks said. "How can those decisions be valid when the rule upon which they were based is invalid?"
Marks called for Gov. Brian Kemp to take a stand against the project to protect the swamp.
"This is a dangerous project, which two of the nation's preeminent hydrologists from UGA believe will lower the swamp's water level," Marks said. "They have told this to EPD repeatedly and yet have been ignored."
The mining proposal has drawn opposition from scientists concerned that mining near the swamp could have an irreversible impact on water levels.
Heavy minerals including titanium are mined by digging a pit, sifting the minerals from the sandy soil and backfilling the pit with the sifted soil as crews dig through the mining site.
Scientists believe the stratified layers of soil are what keeps water in the basin-like swamp. Backfilling the mixed layers could allow water to leak out of the swamp, lowering water levels.
Twin Pines officials contend they can safely mine near the swamp.
"While opponents assert that this operation could drain the swamp, that is physically impossible," Twin Pines officials said. "Except at three small, isolated areas of the mine, the mining depth will not extend below the 120-foot contour, which is above the mean surface water elevation of the Okefenokee Swamp. The mine will not drain the swamp because water does not drain uphill."
Marks, however, said all one has to do is look at Twin Pines' performances at other sites to determine the risk.
"This project is promoted by a company run by former coal miners from Alabama with a history of misrepresentation and pollution," Marks said. "Over 100,000 comments in opposition to the project have been submitted to the federal and state governments."
Marks also questioned the market's demand for the mineral.
"The titanium dioxide Twin Pines Minerals seeks isn't needed," he said. "Chemours, the biggest producer of it in North America, says there's enough supply through the 2030s and has committed not to buy any titanium from next to the Okefenokee."
Marks urged Kemp to "follow the science, the law, and the will of the public and say no to this risky and unnecessary project once and for all."