Tribal Economies

The fate of mine at the edge of Okefenokee Swamp may soon be cemented by Georgia EPD

The company that wants to mine heavy minerals near the Okefenokee Swamp scored a major victory on Monday after a federal agency reversed its decision to take control of the review process at Georgia’s environment agency.

A few months after Twin Pines Minerals’ permitting process was redirected to seek more information about potential damage to the historic burial sites of the Muscogee Creek Nation Tribe, the Environmental Protection Division of Georgia will resume its review of the Alabama-based company’s application to operate a large swath of land bordering the national wildlife refuge. Twin Pines announced on Monday that it had voluntarily dropped its lawsuit that accuses the federal agency of unfairly targeting its mining projects in southeast Georgia when it forced the company to reapply for a permit. federal.

This development puts the project back on track to continue through the final stages of the state’s Environmental Protection Division following an administrative setback applauded by Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff, the Muscogee Nation Creek and environmentalists for protecting the Okefenokee, its water table and endangered wildlife.

Steve Ingle, owner of Twin Pines Minerals

“This is great news for Twin Pines, for our project and for Charlton County,” Twin Pines President Steve Ingle said in a statement. “We appreciate the Corps’ willingness to back down and turn things around. We look forward to working with Georgia EPD to complete the permitting process so we can bring hundreds of well-paying jobs, tax revenue, and economic development to the people of Charlton County.

In September 2019, Twin Pines held public presentations to persuade locals that it could safely mine sand along Trail Ridge, which separates the St. Marys River and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The company hoped to begin mining as soon as summer 2020 once it had obtained Corps and State approval.

Environmental groups are concerned that surface mining along Trail Ridge is damaging groundwater. Opponents say the company’s plans for hundreds of acres of ‘demonstration’ mining will lead to future phases encroaching on a habitat that is home to more than 600 plant species and rare animals like indigo snakes, gopher tortoises and wood storks.

Georgians have a responsibility to protect the national treasure in their own backyards, said Rena Peck, executive director of the Georgia River Network.

“It is our State’s job to protect the Okefenokee Wilderness and it always has been and always will be and we will protect our Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge by working together in a public-private partnership to not allow mining that would lower the water level of the already shallow swamp,” Peck said Monday evening as news spread of the latest twist in the long-running battle over the swamp’s boundary.

As bipartisan support to protect the swamp in the state legislature has gained ground this year, the attempt to block the state EPD from issuing or renewing surface mining permits on Trial Ridge failed.

The company says its mining will not harm the ecosystem when it uses state-of-the-art technology and restores mining pits with sand and native plants.

Twin Pines plans to mine zirconium and titanium dioxide, minerals important to national security, according to a federal report. Besides its use in military and medical technology, titanium is most often used as a pigment in consumer paints.

Twin Pines is also defending the project against accusations that it could drain the marsh because mining would take place several miles from the marsh and at an elevation higher than the water level.

In its lawsuit, Twin Pines complained that the Corps was using a memo from the Biden administration to make it harder to obtain permits for mining projects in Georgia and Arizona by asking for input from Native Americans with historical ties. with the earth. According to them, this change would cost Twin Pines millions of dollars because Ossoff and influential like-minded federal officials strongly oppose it.

The Muscogee Creek Nation had backed a change that could involve surveys and ground testing to determine whether mining at Twin Pines would disturb federally protected cemeteries.

The Okefenokee mine proposal has taken a few detours since the Alabama company proposed it more than three years ago. Twin Pines mining plans were brought forward after Obama-era water protection rules were rolled back by the Trump administration. In June, a memo from the Biden administration directed federal agencies to have “robust” consultation with Native American tribes while a new definition was in the works.

Kelly Moser, senior attorney and head of the Clean Water Defense Initiative at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the organization was disappointed with the Corps’ decision on Monday to side with Twin Pines over people who live near the hundreds of acres of endangered wetlands. which are essential to the environmental health of the wetland area.

“Despite the Corps’ decision, the mining company must still comply with the Clean Water Act. Destroying wetlands next to the Okefenokee without first obtaining a federal permit under the Clean Water Act is illegal and, although the Corps refuses to enforce the law, Double Pines will open itself to citizen law enforcement if it proceeds without a federal permit,” Moser said.