New mining application near Okefenokee proposes ‘demonstration’ project

Twin Pines Minerals is again filing a permit for a mining project near the Okefenokee Swamp, but this time, it’s for a reduced mining area of approximately 898 acres. This Aug. 6, 2019, photo shows the view from the Owls Roost Tower in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM

Weeks after withdrawing a plan for a heavy mineral sand mining operation a few miles from the Okefenokee Swamp, an Alabama-based company has submitted a new application proposing a “demonstration mining project” in a smaller area.

>> READ MORE: Mining company withdraws permit application for project near Okefenokee

In July, Twin Pines Minerals applied for a permit to extract titanium and zirconium through mining along Trail Ridge near Okefenokee. The project, planned in phases, could have ultimately extended along 12,000 acres near the swamp. County officials supported the project, but government agencies and environmental advocacy groups expressed concerns about the limited information provided by Twin Pines on the potential impact that mining could pose to the water levels of the swamp and nearby waterways. Some critics specifically requested an environmental impact statement (EIS), a detailed analysis required by the government for actions that might impact the environment.

The revised application, submitted earlier this month, is for a demonstration project in a reduced mining area of approximately 898 acres, according to documents submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project was proposed as a demonstration to show that heavy mineral sand mining can be conducted in an environmentally responsible manner. It is also designed to validate a previously completed groundwater model that predicted the mining operation would have a negligible impact on local groundwater resources, surface water resources, and the Okefenokee Swamp.

>> READ MORE: Mining proposal raises concerns about future of Okefenokee Swamp

“We are pleased to have completed and submitted our revised permit application. We believe it fully addresses points raised in our discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about reducing the size of our permit area. We look forward to their response and to moving ahead with mining our property in a manner that is environmentally responsible and produces good-paying jobs for the people of Charlton County,” said Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines Minerals. The period of public comment is open until April 13.

But environmental groups have said the new application is merely an attempt to avoid the intense scrutiny of an environmental impact statement. “By shrinking the size of this mine, Twin Pines is desperately trying to circumvent further scientific scrutiny — for this project and its future mines,” said Christian Hunt, Southeast representative at Defenders of Wildlife. “If Twin Pines were confident in its promises, then it would participate in the public process. Instead, its latest backroom maneuver only reinforces the dangers posed by mining next to the Okefenokee.”

>> RELATED: Mining project could cause 'unacceptable' impact to Okefenokee says EPA

Suwannee Riverkeeper John Quarterman said a growing coalition of environmental organizations still wants the Corps to require an environmental impact statement from Twin Pines that would include impacts to Trail Ridge, Okefenokee Swamp and the St. Marys and Suwannee rivers.

There have also been calls for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend the comment period for Twin Pines’ application, particularly given the current outbreak of COVID-19. “Given the uncertainty we all face at this time, we feel it is appropriate for the Corps of Engineers to give the public more time to meaningfully comment on the proposal,” said Ricky Leroux, spokesman for the Sierra Club Georgia Chapter.

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