Valdosta on record opposing mining operation

Jan. 1—VALDOSTA — More than a year ago the Valdosta City Council joined lawmakers across South Georgia opposing controversial mining plans near the Okefenokee Swamp.

At the time, the president of the mining company said he was not concerned about local resolutions like the one passed by Valdosta.

"The Valdosta City Council's resolution has no impact on our plans whatsoever," said Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines Minerals, in a statement.

Valdosta City Council voted Nov. 11, 2021 to oppose Twin Pines' plans to start a mining project near the Okefenokee Swamp, about 75 miles from Valdosta. The vote was 6-0.

Twin Pines submitted permit applications to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for a demonstration heavy minerals project in Charlton County, according to a fact sheet from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The northern boundary of the proposed site is 2.9 miles southeast of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The Army Corps of Engineers had been involved in permit review for the proposed mine until then-President Donald Trump restricted the types of waterways the Corps had power over. Now state authorities must go it alone in permitting for the mine.

Several organizations, including Georgia's Sierra Club, had voiced opposition to the mining plan. Both of Georgia's senators — John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock — also asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review the project, at the time, to insure there is no impact on the swamp.

John Quarterman, the Suwannee Riverkeeper with the WWALS Watershed Coalition, said back in 2021 that he believed it would be bad news for the Okefenokee if the mine goes ahead.

"Digging there could stir up mercury that was deposited from the air by a coal plant 100 miles away," he said. That mercury could make its way into the food chain through fish, causing health concerns, he said.

"The last thing we need is more mercury getting into the waterways," he said.

Twin Pines had also applied to the state for permission to pump out groundwater from the regional aquifer as part of the mining process.

"Draining water (from the aquifer) impacts drinking water supplies and agriculture," Quarterman said at the time. "Lowering the aquifer — how does it affect the swamp? No one knows."

In its water application, Twin Pines said its water needs will be minor without any significant impact.

Valdosta is concerned about the proposed mine because so many people enjoy visiting the Okefenokee's scenic beauty and natural resources, Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson back in 2021.

"I reached out to the Georgia EPD, which gave an assurance they wouldn't do anything to endanger the swamp," he said.

"This is something we promote as a tourist draw ... If we didn't do something, we would have lost an opportunity," the mayor said in reference to the council's resolution.

In his statement back in 2021, Twin Pines president Steve Ingle said "We are answerable to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPD's experts are evaluating our permit application and the extensive studies that show our mining methods will protect the Okefenokee and surrounding environs. They will make a determination based on the facts and science of our application."