Twin Pines Minerals has submitted a new mining permit application near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
In its new application, the Alabama-based company explained its proposed mining technique at an 898-acre tract near the world-famous wildlife refuge using a dragline excavator and conveyor system to transport materials to processing plants. The company wants to conduct a “demonstration mining project” that would show how it removes heavy minerals from the sand.
“This mining technique is different from conventional wet mining which utilizes a dredge and floating concentrator to mine and process heavy mineral bearing sands,” according the 219-page application.
Proposed mining activities will have an “insignificant impact” on stream flow to the Okefenokee, creeks and groundwater east of Trail Ridge, a geological formation east of the swamp, according to the application.
The revised application to mine on an 898-acre tract was submitted about a month after Twin Pines withdrew its initial application to mine 1,041 acres. The longterm plan is to mine 12,000 acres near the refuge.
Australia and China are the major global producers of heavy mineral sand, and the United States only accounts for about four percent of the total world production of titanium minerals; therefore, the United States “is heavily dependent on imports of titanium mineral concentrates to meet its domestic needs,” according to the application.
The proposed mining project has the support of Charlton County officials who say they want the jobs and additional tax revenue that would come if the proposal is approved.
But the revised application hasn’t changed the minds of many environmental groups and public officials in Georgia and Florida who believe mining could cause permanent damage to the refuge, which attracts an estimated 600,000 visitors a year.
Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman said Twin Pines is already under a Florida consent order, along with Chemours, for violations at four mines just south of the Georgia state line. The Suwannee River’s headwaters are in the Okefenokee.
“Let them get their foot in the door, and it will be even harder to get rid of them later,” he said. “Why would we think TPM (Twin Pines Minerals) would stop with just a nibble of Trail Ridge in Georgia?”
Twin Pines has not proven mining would not affect groundwater, the underlying Floridan Aquifer, surface streams or the Okefenokee swamp, he said.
A growing number of organizations continue to join the coalition opposed to mining near the swamp, including all nine river keepers in Georgia. A similar effort to mine heavy minerals near the Okefenokee was abandoned two decades ago because of opposition by environmental groups, scientists and prominent public officials, including then Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt.
Christian Hunt, Southeast representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said a smaller mine remains a concern.
“By shrinking the size of this mine, Twin Pines is desperately trying to circumvent further scientific scrutiny for this project and its future mines,” he said. “If Twin Pines were confident in its promises, then it would participate in the public process.”
Hunt described the latest permit application a “back-room maneuver” that only reenforces the dangers posed to the Okefenokee by mining.
Alex Kearns, chair of St. Marys EarthKeepers, said she was not surprised Twin Pines submitted a revised application.
“We believe that this is nothing more than an attempt to avoid performing a clear and comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement,” she said. “They can continue with these machinations all they want: the size of the area is immaterial, their eventual plan is to mine all 12,000 acres, and we will continue to demand an EIS.”