March 02, 2020

Mining opposition crosses state line

A congressman in Florida wants to make sure any proposal submitted for mining swampland his state shares with Georgia receive proper review.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking it for an environmental impact statement that evaluates projects with the potential to “significantly affect the quality of the human environment.”

Twin Pines Minerals withdrew a permit request to mine titanium and other heavy minerals near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. But the Alabama-based company has plans to resubmit a new plan to the Army Corps of Engineers, and that has generated new concerns, including across the Georgia border into North Florida.

Lawson’s district runs along the Georgia border and includes parts of Osceola National Forest and Osceola Wildlife Management Area.

“It is crucial that the corps require an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act,” he said in his letter. “Furthermore, the corps should reject the permit application if it appears the mine will harm the environment.”

Twin Pines Minerals, seeking permission for a 12,000-acre mine near the southeastern edge of the world-famous swamp, has not expressed any desire for a comprehensive study that would take several years to complete.

Supporters of an environmental impact statement say research is needed to determine how mining to depths up to 70 feet and disturbing layers of soil will influence water retention in the swamp. In the late 1990s, similar concerns were expressed when chemical giant DuPont had plans to mine titanium near the east side of the wildlife refuge along Trail Ridge. DuPont abandoned its plans after more than a year of negotiations with stakeholders.

Other mining concerns are the potential impacts to wildlife and people by noise, the glow of artificial lighting at night, and runoff of sediments into surrounding wetlands and creeks leading to the St. Marys and Suwannee rivers.

Impacts to tourism and jobs are another concern, even though elected officials in Charlton County support the mining project because of the jobs it would bring to the region.

Opponents say mining isn’t worth the risk because of the potential harm to the refuge and local economy. The refuge attracts an estimated 600,000 visitors a year, creating more than 700 jobs and generating $64 million in economic impact to the surrounding region.

In his letter, Lawson said the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency have also expressed concerns about how mining could negatively impact the 438,000-acre wildlife refuge.

He said the public has yet to see key information concerning the project because Twin Pines Minerals has “failed to produce multiple hydrological studies” to support claims that mining will have minimal impacts on the swamp and surrounding areas.

“My constituents depend on a healthy Okefenokee Swamp, and it is unacceptable that such little consideration has been given to how the project will affect Florida’s resources,” he said.

By:  Gordon Jackson / News Brunswick News