An aerial view of the titanium mining operations in Starke, Fla., was part of a tour to look at the potential impacts of mining near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in 2019.

The public comment period for a proposed mining operation near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has been extended until May 28.

It was scheduled to end earlier this week until the six-week extension announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The extension gives stakeholders an opportunity to express opinions about a permit application by Twin Pines Minerals to mine titanium and other heavy minerals near the national wildlife refuge.

The extension was announced on the heels of the St. Marys River and Okefenokee Swamp’s inclusion on America’s Most Endangered Rivers Top 10 list April 15.

Alexandra Kearns, chair of St. Marys EarthKeepers, said the mining proposal has generated concerns among residents and elected officials in the region.

“Given the change in the application and the fact that the corps received over 30,000 comments asking them to extend the period, it was the right thing to do,” she said. “The revised application is no less a threat to the Okefenokee.”

Jeff Schoenberg, chair of the Georgia Sierra Club, said the company’s “second bite at this apple” is as dangerous as the first request.

“Twin Pines is calling this latest proposal a ‘demonstration project’ like it is some sort of experiment,” he said. “It is still a mine, and it is only the beginning of Twin Pines’ ultimate plan for the area to the east of the Okefenokee Swamp.”

The Alabama-based company withdrew its original application earlier this year, only to submit a new permit last month proposing mining on a slightly smaller tract described as a “demonstration project” to prove the viability of mining near the refuge.

Opponents believe the company’s intent is to mine an estimated 12,000 acres, coming within 400 feet of the swamp by the end of the project.

The public comment extension also gives supporters, many in Charlton County, more time to express their support for the project, which would bring new jobs and add to the county’s tax base.

The Sierra Club, St. Marys EarthKeepers, One Hundred Miles and other environmental groups continue to ask the Army Corps of Engineers to require Twin Pines to conduct a complete Environmental Impact Statement to ensure the region’s groundwater and protected species would not be harmed.

“Many believe that it’s nothing more than an attempt to avoid an EIS and start the first steps toward the eventual build-out of a 12,000 acre mine,” Kearns said.

The public will have another way to voice their opinions May 13 at a public meeting to be held online through the WebEx platform. Go to CESAS to register. People must provide their full name, email address and phone number, with the area code. They will be sent a link and security code to participate in the meeting.

Participants will be allowed to submit questions through a chat feature on the site.

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