Twin Pines Minerals of Birmingham, Alabama has applied to the State of Georgia and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permits to begin strip mining on thousands of acres adjacent to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
The permit application for Phase 1 calls for the use of drag lines to excavate land next to the refuge to an average depth of 50 feet over 2,400 acres. Later work, continuing for as much as 30 years would impact almost 12,000 acres. Similar mineral deposits exist the entire length of Trail Ridge, which is adjacent to the eastern edge of the Swamp. The potential for strip mining along the entire eastern boundary of the refuge is therefore very real.
This permit application is reminiscent of a proposal made by DuPont over 20 years ago. Outrage over the possible impact to the refuge resulted in DuPont terminating their plans. Twin Pines is proposing to try again and the threat to the refuge and the nearby St. Mary’s River are greater than ever.
Possible impacts include changes to the hydrology resulting from a disruption of the soil and sand ridge next to the refuge. Application is also being made for use of groundwater for the mining operation which could further alter the hydrology of the Swamp. Water is critical to the well being of Okefenokee – lowered or altered water levels could easily change the unique ecology of the Swamp. Public use and Wilderness values could be impacted due to the close proximity of the mining activity. Air quality and loss of hundreds of acres of wetlands are anticipated.
The Okefenokee Swamp is one of the world’s largest blackwater swamp ecosystems. Miraculously, it has remained almost entirely intact. The Swamp thus provides unique opportunities for scientific research on hydrology, plant ecology, fish and amphibian populations, and other wildlife. Over 700,00 people visit the Refuge each year generating an estimated 750 jobs in the region and over $64 million in revenue annually. Recognized worldwide as a Wetland of International Importance and designated as Wilderness by the U.S. Congress the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a resource too precious to be risked for relatively short term gain. All of these possible impacts need to be thoroughly evaluated before issuing a permit.
The Corps of Engineers is seeking comment on the proposal by September 12, 2019. Public comment is critical to making sure that the possible impacts on Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge are addressed fully before deciding to permanently change this special place.