The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a sprawling swamp that stretches across a good part of Southeast Georgia. Along with being a natural playground for people looking to take a trip in a canoe, going camping and other recreational activities, it is also home to endangered species such as the gopher tortoise, gopher frog and the red cockaded woodpecker.

That is among the reasons why we have concerns about a plan to mine titanium dioxide near the wildlife refuge. Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, based in Birmingham, Ala., has proposed a heavy mineral sand mining facility on about 12,000 acres of land in Charlton County near the south end of the wildlife refuge.

The proposal is to dig pits about 50 feet below land surface, remove titanium dioxide and zirconium from the sandy soil and back-fill the pit. Trees would be replanted at each site during planting season.

This isn’t the first time this proposition has been brought up by a company. In 2001, DuPont abandoned plans to mine titanium dioxide near the refuge after years of negotiations failed to yield any results. Back then, opponents said there was no science to prove that the mining process would not have significant impacts on the Okefenokee, which it should be noted is the largest wildlife refuge east of the Mississippi River.

Environmental groups were concerned that the swamp could end up draining after the different layers of soil were mixed together when the pit is refilled. Those same concerns still exists for environmental agencies today.

According to an Army Corps of Engineers description of the project released on July 12, there would be temporary impacts to 522 acres of wetlands and 2,454 linear feet of tributaries, and permanent impacts to 65 acres of wetlands and 4,658 linear feet of tributaries.

The addition of 150-200 jobs that the facility would bring, according to the Army Corps of Engineers report, is nothing to sneeze at. Giving 200 people a job for what is expected to be an operational life of eight years is a big deal. The project is not worth it, however, if it brings irreparable damage to the refuge itself or the rivers and tributaries that run through it. We would like to see proof that won’t happen before any facility is approved.

The Army Corps of Engineers is accepting public comments about the proposed mining project until Aug. 11 and we encourage everyone to let their voice be heard. They can be sent in writing to Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, attention: Ms. Holly Ross, 1104 North Westover Boulevard, Suite 9, Albany, Georgia, 31707, or by email to holly.a.ross@usace.army.mil.

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