FOLKSTON — The company proposing to mine heavy metals on land near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge held a public meeting Tuesday to explain their plans.
The meeting attracted people from as far as Atlanta to learn more about the proposed mining project.
The company, Twin Pines, set up kiosks with subject matter consultants to explain different aspects of the project.
A biologist, Cindy House-Pearson, explained how the mining process will include restoring wetlands and plant life after an area has been mined. The process includes digging a pit about 100 feet wide and 500 feet long. The depth dug will be anywhere from 10 to 70 feet.
House-Pearson said there is little wildlife, including endangered red cockaded woodpeckers in the area, which burned in a wildfire several years ago.
“There’s not really a whole lot out there right now,” she said.
Dirk Stevenson, another consultant, said gopher tortoises, which are considered threatened by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, will be relocated.
“We will follow the guidance and directions of the DNR,” he said.
Other species such as snakes, amphibians and reptiles will likely move once heavy equipment is close by.
DuPont Corp. proposed a similar plan to mine titanium dioxide in the late 1990s before abandoning the project after opposition by environmental groups who said the science wasn’t done to determine the impact of mining near the wildlife refuge.
Some expressed concern that homogenizing the different layers of soil when the pit is backfilled could cause the swamp to drain. Consultants at the meeting expressed confidence the mining project would not affect water levels in the swamp.
The proposed permit area consists of 2,414 acres and the proposed disturbance area will encompass 1,456 acres. The proposed mining project will last at least eight years and company officials have expressed the desire to expand the scope of mining.
“As part of the restoration plan, Twin Pines plans to grade the mine area post-mining to near pre-mine land surface contours. Wetlands within the mined area will be temporarily impacted as a result of mining but will return to wetlands post-mining,” according to a handout explaining the project.
Despite the reassurances, members of the environmental community were not convinced. Some expressed concerns about heavy metals getting into the tributaries flowing into the nearby St. Marys River.
Alex Kearns, chair of the St. Marys EarthKeepers, asked about impacts to local hunt clubs and Native American artifacts in the area.
“They’re not able to answer some of the hardest questions,” she said. “I have real concerns about Native American artifacts.”
Kearns also called for an independent environmental study before mining is approved.
Rena Peck Stricker, executive director of the Georgia River Network, traveled from her Atlanta office to attend the meeting.
She is among those who believe Trail Ridge, a geological formation that stretches along the eastern edge of the refuge, acts as a dam to keep the Okefenokee as a swamp.
Stricker said she is not surprised Twin Pines is making the second attempt in two decades to mine near the swamp, which attracts an estimated 600,000 visitors a year at all the entrances and Stephen Foster State Park.
“I think they feel like the technology is different now,” she said. “I’m still concerned about the Trail Ridge impacts.”