Agency ruling delivers big setback to Okefenokee mining plan

Jun 3, 2022, 8:11 PM | Updated: Jun 6, 2022, 6:08 am
FILE - The sun sets over water lilies and cypress trees along the remote Red Trail wilderness water...

FILE - The sun sets over water lilies and cypress trees along the remote Red Trail wilderness water trail of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Wednesday, April 6, 2022, in Fargo, Ga. The refuge is one of the world's largest intact freshwater ecosystems and averages 300,000 visitors a year and 4,000 visitors permitted for overnight camping along trails such as this. According to a government memo, Friday, June 3, 2022, a federal agency has delivered a big setback to a company's controversial plan to mine at the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp's vast wildlife refuge. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)

(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A federal agency has delivered a big setback to a company’s controversial plan to mine near the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp and its vast wildlife refuge.

A government memo said Friday that the Army Corps of Engineers is reasserting jurisdiction over Twin Pines Minerals’ proposal to mine minerals just outside the Okefenokee, home to the largest U.S. wildlife refuge east of the Mississippi River.

Scientists have warned that mining close to the swamp’s bowl-like rim could damage its ability to hold water. They urged the Army Corps of Engineers to deny the project a permit. But the agency declared in 2020 it no longer had that authority after regulatory rollbacks under then-President Donald Trump narrowed the types of waterways qualifying for protection under the Clean Water Act.

Trump’s rollbacks were later scrapped by federal courts. President Joe Biden’s administration has sought to restore federal oversight of development projects that under Trump had been allowed to sidestep regulations to prevent pollution of streams or draining of wetlands.

Michael Connor, the assistant Army secretary for civil works, said in the Friday memo that prior decisions waiving the Army Corps’ jurisdiction over the Georgia mining plan and another proposed mine outside Tucson, Arizona, had been reversed.

Connor wrote that both projects would have to start over with new applications for federal permits. He said the prior decisions allowing them to bypass federal regulators “are not valid” because tribal governments with ancestral ties to the proposed mining sites had not been consulted.

The Twin Pines project in Georgia will require consultation with the Muscogee Creek Nation before it can move forward, the memo said.

“We have said from the day we announced our plans that we would follow the regulations before us at any given time,” Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines, said in a statement. He added: “We intend to move forward with our application and fulfill all requirements.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, a Georgia Democrat who has fought the proposed mine outside the Okefenokee since he took office last year, called the decision a major victory.

“I am pleased to announce the restoration of protection for this wildlife refuge and its surrounding wetlands,” Ossoff said in a statement late Friday. “The Okefenokee is a natural wonder and one of Georgia’s most precious lands. I will continue fighting to protect it for future generations.”

Alabama-based Twin Pines had been awaiting a permitting decision by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, the sole regulator with oversight over the project before the federal government’s Friday decision, which restores the Army Corps regulatory authority over 556 acres (225 hectares) of wetlands in the proposed mining area.

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge covers nearly 630 square miles (1,630 square kilometers) in southeast Georgia and is home to alligators, bald eagles and other protected species. The swamp’s wildlife, cypress forests and flooded prairies draw roughly 600,000 visitors each year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge.

Two decades ago, chemical giant DuPont retreated from plans to mine outside the Okefenokee after meeting fierce resistance. Twin Pines wants permits to mine a small fraction of the acreage DuPont pursued. Ingle has insisted his company can mine the site without harming the swamp.

Government scientists have been skeptical. In February 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote that the proposed mine could pose “substantial risks” to the swamp, including its ability to hold water. Some impacts, it said, “may not be able to be reversed, repaired, or mitigated for.”

Conservation groups cheered the federal government’s decision.

“Mining on the doorstep of a rare ecological treasure like Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp defies common sense,” Kelly Moser, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center who specializes in clean water issues, said in a statement. “And we are thrilled that this announcement removes the threat to hundreds of acres of critically important wetlands.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

In this image made from video provided by Delane Gordon, a police officer in Collegedale, Tenn., is...
Associated Press

Charges dropped for Black man stunned by cop in traffic stop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Black DoorDash driver no longer faces charges in a traffic stop for speeding in which a police officer shot him with a stun gun, an exchange the man caught on video as he declined to leave his car and requested a police supervisor. A judge this week dismissed the case […]
10 hours ago
Tanya Britton prays before lunch as a sign memorializing babies aborted in the United States hangs ...
Associated Press

‘We’ve done our part’: End of Roe brings answer to prayer

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — There is a prayer Tanya Britton has said in the hazy first moments of morning and in the stillness of the night. She’s said it on her knees before her church’s gold tabernacle and slumped in the embrace of her living room sofa. The words have morphed, sometimes touching her lips […]
10 hours ago
Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v...
Associated Press

Legal battles likely as divided states grapple with abortion

The Supreme Court’s decision Friday to overturn the constitutional right to abortion has only further fractured an already deep division between the states, where contentious legal battles are almost certain to erupt as legislatures and attorneys general grapple with the new landscape of abortion access. Even before the opinion, lawmakers, activists and legal scholars were […]
10 hours ago
Abortion right activists gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The...
Associated Press

A look at 50 years of Supreme Court abortion decisions

WASHINGTON (AP) — A look at some of the Supreme Court’s major abortion rulings over the last 50 years. During that time, the court’s membership and views on abortion regulations have changed. 1973 — The court legalizes abortion nationwide in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. 1976 — The court strikes down a Missouri law […]
10 hours ago
FILE - A United Airlines jetliner lifts off from a runway at Denver International Airport on June 1...
Associated Press

Pilots in line for big raises amid global travel disruptions

DALLAS (AP) — The largest pilots union has approved a contract that would boost the pay of pilots at United Airlines by more than 14% over the next 18 months, potentially clearing the way for similar large wage throughout the industry. The deal reflects the leverage currently held by unions with the industry facing a […]
10 hours ago
FILE — A woman exhales while vaping from a Juul pen e-cigarette in Vancouver, Wash., April 16, 20...
Associated Press

Juul seeks to halt FDA order banning e-cigarette sales in US

Juul on Friday asked a federal court to block a government order to stop selling its electronic cigarettes. The e-cigarette maker asked the court to pause what it calls an “extraordinary and unlawful action” by the Food and Drug Administration. The company filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington as […]
10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
...
Canvas Annuity

The secret to guaranteed retirement income

Annuities aren’t really a secret, but they are so misunderstood that they might as well be. Once you understand what an annuity is and how it can benefit you, you could decide this “secret” is the perfect supplement to your retirement plan.
Agency ruling delivers big setback to Okefenokee mining plan