The Army Corps of Engineers has been inundated with responses to a proposed heavy minerals mine near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Two public comment periods have generated more than 60,000 comments, many in opposition to the proposal by Twin Pines Minerals to mine on a 12,000-acre site near the world-famous swamp that attracts more than 600,000 visitors annually.

The Alabama-based company revised its application to conduct a “demonstration project” on a 898-acre site.

That application generated more than 44,000 comments in response.

The main concern by opponents is mining pits could have destructive and irreversible effects on the swamp.

“Carving 50-foot deep pits into the ridge that acts as a geological dam that is essential for the maintenance of surface water and groundwater is risky at best, devastating at worst,” said Alex Kearns of St. Marys EarthKeepers. “It’s playing Russian roulette with an international natural landmark and the source of the Suwannee and St. Marys rivers.”

The number of comments shows the widespread concern mining near the Okefenokee has generated.

In the late 1990s, chemical giant DuPont abandoned similar plans to mine near the swamp because of widespread opposition by environmental groups.

“For a typical permit decision, the Corps might receive a handful to hundreds of comment letters,” said Christian Hunt of Defenders of Wildlife. “Forty four thousand sends a clear message to the Corps. People do not want to risk the Okefenokee for common minerals that can be easily found elsewhere.”

Concerned environmental organizations are asking the corps to deny the permit or require additional studies to determine the true cost of the mine on the swamp and the economy of the region, a process that results in a comprehensive environmental impact statement.

“It’s location, location, location,” said Rena Ann Peck of Georgia River Network. “As mining spreads across the site, we could see activity within 400 feet of the Okefenokee swamp. And the swamp wetlands extend beyond the Refuge onto the ridge itself. With the average depth of the water in the swamp being only two feet, there’s not much room for error. Drawing down water levels could impact the 120 miles of canoe trails in the wilderness area and the more than 600,000 ecotourists, anglers and hunters that visit the swamp annually.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center also submitted comments signed by more than 30 environmental organizations, including the Garden Club of Georgia.

“The leadership of the Garden Club of Georgia, Inc., representing its 10,000 members, was honored to join many other concerned organizations and sign on the SELC letter opposing Twin Pines proposed operations bordering the Okefenokee swamp.,” said Barbara Bourque, the organization’s president. “That well-researched document clearly shows the danger that a mining operation would cause to our unique natural resource.”

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