Mining Threatens the Okefenokee Swamp


IMG_0176+copy.jpg


In July 2019, a proposal was submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by an Alabama-based company, Twin Pines, seeking issuance of a permit to mine for heavy minerals (titanium and zirconium) from Trail Ridge near the southeastern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.

From the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: “Trail Ridge forms a rim or geomorphological “dam” on the east side of the swamp maintaining the hydrology of the swamp. The soil of Trail Ridge has a profile or distinct layers. This gives it water holding and water movement characteristics.

The mining is proposed to go an average of 50 feet deep from the ground surface which is below the level of the Okefenokee Swamp depression, which is integral to maintaining surface water and groundwater hydrology in this region of southeast Georgia. Twin Pines plans for a facility on a 12,000 acre tract along Trail Ridge and very close to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Charlton County.

Trail Ridge INFO.JPG

The current permit application is for the first phase, comprising of 2314 acres, with a plan to excavate an average of 50 feet, sort the material with a wet mill and backfill in a 24 hour per day operation.  Approximately 25 – 40 acres per month of ground would be exposed in this process. The permit indicates temporary impacts to 522 acres of wetlands and 2,454 linear feet of tributaries and permanent impacts of 65 acres of wetlands and 4,658 linear feet of tributaries

The proximity to the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge, which is one of Georgia’s most precious ecological sites, heightens Georgia Conservancy concerns over the proposed mining.  The mining would impact wetlands on or adjacent to this tract and could permanently impact the hydrology of the entire Okefenokee Swamp. The Okefenokee’s 438,000-acre biodiverse ecosystem is home to the headwaters of two notable rivers, the Suwannee and the St. Marys.

Each year, 600,000 people visit the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, generating roughly $88 million in economic impact in Charlton, Clinch and Ware Counties.

Risking the health of the Okefenokee, its ecosystem, and its current economic impact is unthinkable today as it was in the late 1990s. Then, the swift action of concerned citizens, scientists, lawmakers and conservation groups fought off a similar mining threat.

Learn more about the incredible efforts to designate more than 353,000 acres of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge as a Federal Wilderness Area.


Our Initial Concerns

The Georgia Conservancy would like to see the following issues be addressed in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetland impact permitting (and forthcoming Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Open Pit Mining Permit) process for this first phase of a proposed multi-stage mine:

Hydrologic impacts 

15068961_10154771710523385_8144360048330100872_o.jpg
  • It is vital to understand if there are potential impacts to the water level of the Okefenokee from the mining operations and soil homogenization.

  • Portions of the proposed mine site drain surface water to the Okefenokee Swamp. Turbidity and surface water quality is frequently an issue at similar mines.

  • Changes in groundwater flow from mining operations, which lower the area water table, could have an impact on adjacent (Trail Ridge) isolated wetlands.

  • Changes in fire frequency and intensity due to hydrological changes could result from lower groundwater levels.

Habitat impacts

  • Habitat reduction and fragmentation on the unique Trail Ridge sands (xeric ecosystem).

  • Loss of habitat for the gopher tortoise, a keystone species, and the other notable species that depend on the tortoise, including the eastern indigo snake.

  • Noise, light and other impacts for wildlife and visitors to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Gopher Tortoise area + TR_AJC_cropped.jpg
TR_TwinPines_topo_AJC_cropped.jpg

A Request for Public Hearings

The Georgia Conservancy respectfully requests that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provide the opportunity for a public hearing for permit application number SAS-2018-00554 - the proposed mining of land along Trail Ridge, near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Reasons for considering a public hearing include:

  • The Okefenokee has unique aquatic resources at stake, and given the size of the proposed project, the public should be given a chance provide comments on the proposed mining activities and their impact on the swamp and other resources on Trail Ridge. 

  • The Okefenokee is important to the economy of Charlton County and nearby communities. The citizens of the area should have a chance to learn more and discuss impacts.

Learn more: https://bit.ly/2XX9enJ


HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Voice your support for the Okefenokee. The Army Corps of Engineers is extending the deadline for public comments on a proposal to mine for minerals near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The new deadline is September 12, an additional 30 days from the original deadline of August 13.

  • In writing to the Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, Attention: Ms. Holly Ross, 1104 N. Westover Blvd., Suite 9, Albany, Georgia, 31707

  • Email to holly.a.ross@usace.army.mil

  • Note in comments: Refer to applicant’s name — Steven R. Ingle, Twin Pines Minerals — and the application number — SAS-2018-00554.


Want to Learn More?

On August 5 at noon, join the Georgia Conservancy at Generator (828 Ralph McGill Blvd NE, Atlanta, GA 30306) along Atlanta's Eastside Beltline Trail to discuss how proposed mining on 12,000 acres near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge threatens the ecological integrity of the Okefenokee Swamp and what you can do to ensure that this project does not proceed. Please register below:


If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Georgia Conservancy Natural Resource and Coastal Director Charles McMillan at cmcmillan@gaconservancy.org