Regulators move mine plan near Okefenokee a big step forward

Jan 19, 2023, 12:00 PM | Updated: 12:07 pm
FILE - The sun sets on the lily pads and floating vegetation in the Chesser Prairie inside the Okef...

FILE - The sun sets on the lily pads and floating vegetation in the Chesser Prairie inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge on March 30, 2022, in Folkston, Ga. A company's plan to mine minerals just outside the Okefenokee Swamp and it's federally protected wildlife refuge moved a big step closer Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, to approval by Georgia regulators, who have spent years evaluating the project that opponents say could permanently harm an ecological treasure. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)

(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A company’s plan to mine minerals just outside the Okefenokee Swamp and its federally protected wildlife refuge moved a big step closer Thursday to approval by Georgia regulators, who have spent years evaluating the project that opponents say could permanently harm an ecological treasure.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division released a draft plan Thursday for how Twin Pines Minerals would operate its proposed mine and mitigate potential impacts to the swamp. The move triggered a 60-day period for public comments before the agency can approve a final plan, which is required for the project to qualify for a mining permit.

Since 2019, Twin Pines of Birmingham, Alabama, has been seeking government permits to mine titanium dioxide less than 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) from the southeastern boundary of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest U.S. refuge east of the Mississippi River.

Federal scientists have warned that mining near the Okefenokee’s bowl-like rim could damage the swamp’s ability to hold water. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland recently declared the proposed mine poses an “unacceptable risk” to the fragile ecosystem at the Georgia-Florida line.

Twin Pines has insisted it can mine without harming the swamp, and Georgia regulators echoed a key point of the company’s assurances Thursday. In a summary of the draft plan, the state agency said its own analysis has “concluded that water level in the swamp will be minimally impacted.”

The role of Georgia regulators is critical because the federal government, which normally weighs environmental permits in tandem with state agencies, has relinquished oversight of the Twin Pines project.

Twin Pines President Steve Ingle said the Georgia agency’s decision to let the project advance to the next stage was an “important milestone.”

“This is a great opportunity for people to learn the truth about what our operations will and will not do, and the absurdity of allegations that our shallow mining-to-land-reclamation process will `drain the swamp’ or harm it in any way,” Ingle said in a statement.

Opponents promised an impassioned fight during the two-month comment period.

Josh Marks, an Atlanta environmental attorney who has been a leading critic of the Twin Pines plan, said the company can’t be trusted to operate responsibly “next to Georgia’s greatest natural treasure.”

“Twin Pines Minerals’ dangerous proposal to strip mine along the hydrologic boundary of the Okefenokee would be a massive threat to the swamp’s integrity even if TPM was a flawless, experienced operator,” Marks said.

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.

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.”

C. Rhett Jackson, a hydrology professor at the University of Georgia, recently warned state regulators in a written analysis that mining pits Twin Pines plans to dig would siphon off enough groundwater to triple the frequency and duration of severe droughts in the swamp’s southeast corner.

“Such an increase in drought frequency will have substantial effects on swamp ecology, wildfire frequency, and boating access for tourism, management, and scientific purposes,” Jackson said Thursday, calling the draft mining plan “deeply flawed.”

The Army Corps of Engineers was in the process of reviewing a federal permit for Twin Pines when the agency declared in 2020 that it no longer had authority over the project because of regulatory rollbacks under President Donald Trump.

Despite efforts by President Joe Biden to restore federal oversight, the Army Corps entered an agreement with Twin Pines last year to maintain its hands-off position. Conservation groups have filed suit over that deal.

In releasing the draft plan Thursday, the state Environmental Protection Division noted that Twin Pines still faces an additional draft and comment period for a surface mining permit if its mining plan gets approved. The company also has permit applications still pending for air and groundwater withdrawal permits related to the same mining project.

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

AP

Associated Press

Iran reports drone attack on defense facility

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s Defense Ministry says one of its factories was attacked by drones in the central city of Isfahan. A statement carried by the state-run IRNA news agency says the attack occurred late Saturday and caused minor damage to a rooftop. The report says three drones were shot down by […]
23 hours ago
Associated Press

N. Carolina church says it lost nearly $800K in email scam

ELKIN, N.C. (AP) — Leaders of a northwestern North Carolina church say cybercriminals stole nearly $800,000 that the congregation spent years raising to build a new sanctuary that’s supposed to be completed in a few months. It happened in November when Elkin Valley Baptist Church received an email that mimicked another message from the sanctuary […]
23 hours ago
A migrant from Michoacan, Mexico, uses the CBPOne app Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Tijuana, Mexico. A...
Associated Press

Online system to seek asylum in US is quickly overwhelmed

A mobile app for migrants to seek asylum in the United States has been overwhelmed since it was introduced this month.
23 hours ago
Associated Press

TV anchors T.J. Holmes, Amy Robach leave ABC amid romance

NEW YORK (AP) — T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach, anchors at the afternoon extension of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” are leaving the network after their romance was reported in November. The pair were taken off the air and placed on temporary hiatus after photos surfaced of them holding hands and spending time together. Both were […]
23 hours ago
Associated Press

Delaware Gov. John Carney tests positive for COVID-19

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Delaware Gov. John Carney has tested positive for COVID-19, the governor’s office announced on Saturday. Carney tested positive late Friday using an at-home antigen test after experiencing mild symptoms, according to a news release. Carney, 66, said he’s “feeling fine” and is isolating himself — following U.S. Centers for Disease Control […]
23 hours ago
FILE - FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court on Jan. 3, 2023, in New York, a...
Associated Press

FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried, DOJ tussle over his communications

Federal prosecutors are trying to prohibit FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried from privately contacting current and former employees of the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange to prevent potential witness tampering in a criminal case accusing him of bilking investors and customers. The request, made in a letter filed late Friday by U.S. Justice Department lawyers, prompted an indignant […]
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
Regulators move mine plan near Okefenokee a big step forward