Twin Pines should not be given the keys to the Okefenokee
Since announcing plans to strip mine along the Trail Ridge adjacent to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Twin Pines Minerals has held multiple hearings and meetings with political figures and the people of Charlton County to make their case and ostensibly calm fears about the miners environmental impact. Unfortunately, the company continues to display a lack of transparency and misrepresent both the nature and scale of the proposed mine, as well the costs of mining next to the swamp.
To truly understand what is at stake, here are the facts.
First, Twin Pines has repeatedly claimed that operations will only occur in a small and isolated area. The company promised at the recent Folkston hearing that mining will be far removed from the swamp and will not take place across the larger property. According to multiple government agencies, however, Twin Pines has privately conceded that it plans to mine all 12,000-acres in roughly 1,000-acre phases over a 30-year period. This would place mining on the edge of the refuge and within a stone’s throw of the Okefenokee swamp itself.
At the same hearing, the company also dismissed the potential for impacts to imperiled species and inexplicably promised locals 300-400 jobs, which is twice the number specified in its permit application. Twin Pines further declared that it would somehow restore mined wetlands to an even healthier condition than their original state, even though the company, at just six years old, apparently has no real-world experience restoring wetlands of any kind on mined sands.
These promises were recently met with over 20,000 comments, most of which voiced concern with or opposition to the project. Following the closure of the public comment period, Twin Pines president Steve Ingle published a bizarre, full-page advertisement, in which he called mining opponents selfish hypocrites. He also suggested that, if mining were to harm the swamp, it would be the public’s responsibility to prove. Fortunately, that is simply not the way our country operates. Despite its protests, the burden of proof rests upon the shoulders of Twin Pines. The company must refute the findings of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and several independent experts, all of whom expect mining to potentially result in permanent, unacceptable, or irreversible damage to the swamp. That these predictions give Twin Pines no cause for concern is disappointing but ultimately of little surprise. Given their history, the Alabama-based company has shown it has little regard for either authority or environmental protections. After ignoring warnings from the state of Florida, for instance, Twin Pines was recently cited for failing to maintain silt fences and illegally dumping tailings into a wetland.
On an annual basis, 600,000 visitors travel to the refuge and generate upwards of $64 million in local economic output, which in turn supports over 700 local jobs. The wealth created by the swamp, however, is directly tied to its well-being. In recent surveys, 50% of visitors indicated they’d be less likely to return for future visits were the Okefenokee’s water quality to diminish.
As photos of Twin Pines’ actual, real-life operations confirm, damage of this nature is simply the cost of doing business with the mining industry.
Though I have spent many hours within the Okefenokee, I am not a local, and I dare not intend to tell the people of Charlton County how to feel. What I can say is that my organization, Defenders of Wildlife, is well-versed in the defense of our most cherished wild spaces. We have learned that certain corporations will say and do almost whatever it takes to gain the votes of local stakeholders, whether it be through finger-pointing, outright misrepresentations, or inflated financial promises. In such cases, history shows that communities should proceed at their own risk. Once the keys to the resources are handed over, promises tend to go unfulfilled, as do assurances of environmental stewardship. Based on its track record, Twin Pines unfortunately appears to fit this profile.
In the coming months, I hope the people of Charlton County take account of the facts, critically examine the representations made by Twin Pines, and ultimately come to reach the same conclusion. The long-term vibrancy of our country’s greatest wetland, the Okefenokee Swamp, depends on it.
Christian Hunt is the Southeast Program Associate for Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation organization focused solely on wildlife and habitat conservation and the safeguarding of biodiversity.
— Christian Hunt, Southeast Program Associate for Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation organization focused solely on wildlife and habitat conservation and the safeguarding of biodiversity.
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Thanks to Christian Hunt for sending an image of the letter.
All about that proposed TPM titanium mine next to the Okefenokee Swamp:
The nominal comment deadline was Thursday, September 12, 2019, but the Corps will not say it will not read comments sent in later, so you can still send in your comments, and post them on social media, as op-eds, etc.
To comment, or to request a public hearing, you can write 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
In your comments please refer to:
Applicant: Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, Application Number: SAS-2018-00554.
For the requested state permit regarding Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, you can send a comment or request for public hearing to
Stephen Wiedl, Wetlands Unit, email@example.com
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, Water Protection Branch, 7 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30334.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
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