Supporters of the Okefenokee Swamp ready to stop new strip mine application by Twin Pines Minerals

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Hahira, Georgia, March 16, 2020 — The coalition of supporters of the Okefenokee Swamp against anything that would harm it stands ready to stop the new strip mine application, same as the old one.

Twin Pines Minerals (TPM) of Birmingham, Alabama, in its new application claims its proposed titanium strip mine less than three miles from the Okefenokee Swamp would be on a “reduced mining area,” which is actually 86% of what they proposed last time. They say they want to do a “demonstration” mine.

[Figure 1: Location of the Proposed Saunders Demonstration Mine]
Figure 1: Location of the Proposed Saunders Demonstration Mine
PDF

Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman says, “Let their foot in the door and it will be even harder to get rid of them later. TPM is under a Florida Consent Order along with Chemours for violations at four mines due south in north Florida. Chemours now wants a fifth Florida titanium mine on Trail Ridge. Why would we think TPM would stop with just a nibble of Trail Ridge in Georgia? Our Okefenokee Swamp with its fishing, boating, birding, and hunting nearby, is much more important than any mine, especially since it is the headwaters of the Suwannee River and the St Marys River.”

Despite TPM’s assurances, the miners have not proven their mining would not affect the groundwater, the underlying Floridan Aquifer, surface streams, or the Okefenokee Swamp.

Their application form proposes to mine 1041.7 acres, the same size tract as in their application of last year that they retracted in early January of this year. But their actual application says “TPM now wishes to conduct a demonstration mining project for a reduced mining area of approximately 898 acres.”

86% of the original acreage is not much reduced. And how is that just a demonstration?

No doubt you will hear more about that and other problems with the miners’ application from the coalition supporting the Swamp and opposing anything that would harm it. That coalition includes a wide range of organizations, local, state, national, and international.

[Organizations For Okefenokee Swamp, Against Titanium Mine]
Organizations For Okefenokee Swamp, Against Titanium Mine
PDF

The coalition continues to grow. For example, the recent addition of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper means all nine Riverkeepers of Georgia oppose this mine. The October resolution by Waterkeepers Florida means all the Waterkeepers of Florida oppose this mine.

Thus the number of organizations represented in the coalition supporting the swamp is more than the approximately three dozen logos shown above. For example, Georgia River Network has many member organizations, and Waterkeeper Alliance represents more than 300 organizations worldwide.

“The interconnection between the Okefenokee’s wetlands and Trail Ridge is easily apparent on this map showing the overlap of the 12,000 acre Twin Pines mining site,” said Rena Ann Peck, Executive Director, Georgia River Network.

[Map: Okefenokee Swamp and Trail Ridge in Georgia, by Georgia River Network]
Map: Okefenokee Swamp and Trail Ridge in Georgia, by Georgia River Network

Many local citizens have expressed their opposition to this mine in the Charlton County Herald, the Brunswick News, and many other newspapers, TV interviews, and on social media.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA-EPD) all opposed the previous application.

There is bipartisan opposition from elected officials, including Florida U.S. Senator Al Lawson and Georgia state senator William Ligon. Downstream on the St. Marys River, Camden County and numerous city councils have registered their opposition.

Please send your comments to the Army Corps, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and your state and national elected officials as soon as you can. Since the comment deadline is only thirty days from last Friday, maybe you’d like to start by asking for a ninety day deadline extension.

WWALS plans to ask for such an extension, and once again to ask the Corps to reject this mining application, or to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to include areas, mines, and topics the mine may affect or that are relevant to this mining operation.

WWALS reserves the right to litigate later, but we are not doing so at this time. First, we urge appointed and elected officials to reject this mine or to require an EIS.

WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc. (WWALS) advocates for conservation and stewardship of the Withlacoochee, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Little, Santa Fe, and Suwannee River watersheds in south Georgia and north Florida through education, awareness, environmental monitoring, and citizen activities. Founded in June 2012, WWALS has board members from multiple counties in south Georgia and north Florida, and members from all over the Suwannee River Basin and from farther away. Since December 2016, John S. Quarterman is the Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®, which is a staff position and a project of WWALS as the member of WATERKEEPER® Alliance for the Suwannee River Basin.

Suwannee RIVERKEEPER(R) banner

Contact: John S. Quarterman, Suwannee Riverkeeper®
contact@suwanneeriverkeeper.org
229-242-0102
WWALS Watershed Coalition
www.wwals.net
850-290-2350
PO Box 88, Hahira, GA 31632

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A few more reasons to oppose the mine

The miners continue in their application:

This demonstration project has been selected and designed to demonstrate that heavy mineral sand (HMS) mining can be conducted in an environmentally responsible manner. The proposed demonstration project will be used to validate a previously completed groundwater model which predicted that mining will have a negligible impact on local groundwater resources, surface water resources, and the Okefenokee Swamp.

So they want to experiment with the groundwater less than three miles from our Okefenokee Swamp.

Their application form is dated February 28, 2020, with a cover letter and the actual application dated March 4th, all published by the Army Corps on March 13, 2020.

[Joint Public Notice --USACE]
Joint Public Notice –USACE
PDF

Their application form also says:

15.e. Will dredged material be entrapped or encased? no

15.f. Will wetlands be crossed in transporting equipment to project site? yes

Do we want 63 million cubic yards of mineral sands from fifty feet deep unconstrained across waterways leading to the Okefenokee Swamp?

TPM proposes removing 63,410,372± cubic yards of mineral sands, using a type of equipment unspecified in the application form. On Page 1 of their actual application they say:

Twin Pines has developed a novel HMS mining technique using a dragline excavator and conveyor system for materials transport, and land-based permanent processing plants. This mining technique is different from conventional “wet mining”, which utilizes a dredge and floating concentrator to mine and process heavy mineral-bearing sands. This technique will utilize an electrically powered dragline for mining which can efficiently move large quantities of material.

There’s more detail, but the key word is “novel”. They’ve never done this before, and apparently nobody else has, either. Do we want our Okefenokee Swamp risked by their experimentation?

TPM proposes to commence mining on June 1, 2020, ending same date 2026.

Does anybody believe a mining company will cease mining once it has started? When the miners say outright that this application is merely a demonstration? What is the point of a demonstration unless they plan to keep mining more?

Even the miners’ map of hydrologic unit codes is misleading:

[Figure 76: Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) Map]
Figure 76: Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) Map
PDF

The Okefenokee Swamp is the headwaters of both the Suwannee and St. Marys Rivers, yet there is no mention of the Suwannee on that map, nor anywhere I can find in the Public Notice nor in the miners’ actual application. Maybe there’s some mention in an appendix somewhere, but that would hardly reflect the importance of this omission in the main body.

See this map instead:

[Map: TPM Mine, Okefenokee Swamp, Suwannee River]
Map: TPM Mine, Okefenokee Swamp, Suwannee River
in the WWALS map of All Public Landings in the Suwannee River Basin.

The TPM mine is marked in the right center by the highlighted crossed hammers, due north of the line of four Chemours titanium mines in north Florida.

Almost all the public landings or sleeping platforms in the Okefenokee Swamp are in the Suwannee River Basin. Anything that affects the level or quality of the water of the Swamp affects the whole Swamp and the Suwannee River.

The miners’ map of proposed surface water monitoring is grossly inadequate, since it doesn’t even include any monitoring in the Okefenokee Swamp, much less downstream on the Suwannee or St. Marys Rivers.

[Figure 66: Proposed Surface Water Monitoring Location Map]
Figure 66: Proposed Surface Water Monitoring Location Map
PDF

The miners show a detailed map of the specific Saunders Tract they propose to mine.

[Figure 67: Overall Saunders Tract Map]
Figure 67: Overall Saunders Tract Map
PDF

Their map of “Estimated Progression of Mining” is limited to only a part of that Saunders Tract.

[Figure 3: Estimated Progression of Mining]
Figure 3: Estimated Progression of Mining
PDF

Yet their own map of Heavy Minerals of SE Georgia & NE Florida shows the Toledo Tract due north of the Saunders Tract as having Heavy Mineral Deposits.

[Figure 2: Heavy Minerals of Se Georgia & NE Florida]
Figure 2: Heavy Minerals of Se Georgia & NE Florida
PDF

Their Figure 2 is a version of the same map WWALS included in our September 12, 2019 comments against TPM’s original mining application. In that comment letter we quoted the moral of the map:

Further inland, the Folkston West deposit was lost to exploitation due to environmental concerns, and the Toledo and Saunders deposits may be lost for the same reasons. These deposits are located on Trail Ridge near the eastern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and extend from near Race Pond, Georgia, on the north to state road 94 on the south….

—L. Pirkle, Fredric & A. Pirkle, William & Rich, Fredrick. (2013). Heavy-Mineral Mining in the Atlantic Coastal Plain and What DepositLocations Tell Us about Ancient Shorelines. Journal of Coastal Research. 69. 154-175. 10.2112/SI_69_11. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275619883_Heavy-Mineral_Mining_in_the_Atlantic_Coastal_Plain_and_What_Deposit_Locations_Tell_Us_about_Ancient_Shorelines

Two decades ago, massive opposition, including by some of the same organizations involved in the current coalition, stopped Dupont from mining the Folkston West tract northeast of the Swamp. This time we aim to stop Twin Pines Minerals from mining the Saunders Tract southeast of the Swamp, and even closer to it.

Suwannee Riverkeeper will be filing additional comments for WWALS, and we hope many others will also file comments opposing this mine and supporting the Okefenokee Swamp.

How to Comment

The comment deadline was May 28, 2020, according to SAS-2018-00554 Twin Pines Minerals, Published April 13, 2020, Expiration date: 5/28/2020.

“The Savannah District will hold a virtual Public Meeting for the Twin Pines project on May 13, 2020 from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM EDT. The meeting will consist of a formal presentation followed by a question and answer session. The meeting will be recorded and published to the Savannah District public website. To allow time for the public to submit questions and RSVP to the public meeting, as well as comment on any information presented at the meeting, additional public comments will be accepted and the original public notice will remain open until May 28, 2020, 15 days after the virtual public meeting.”

However, you can write to your elected officials. And the Corps apparently actually continues to read comments after the deadline, right up until they make a decision. While you are at home because of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), you have a great opportunity to write a comment, and to You can also post your comments on social media, as op-eds, etc.

You can ask the Corps and other elected and appointed officials to deny the application, or to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to consider wider areas the mine may affect, especially the entire Okefenokee Swamp, the Suwannee and St Marys Rivers, and the rest of Trail Ridge in Georgia. You can ask for the EIS to include other mines relevant to this one, especially the four Chemours titanium strip mines in north Florida for which TPM, along with Chemours, is under a Florida Consent Order for a range of violations. You may want to ask for inclusion of the existing phosphate mine in Hamilton County, Florida, next to the Suwannee River, as well as the one proposed in Union and Bradford Counties, Florida, next to the New and Santa Fe Rivers, tributaries of the Suwannee. All those mines affect the Floridan Aquifer, which is the main source of water for drinking, agriculture, and industry for everyone in south Georgia and north Florida.

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 CESAS-SpecialProjects@usace.army.mil or holly.a.ross@usace.army.mil.
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, stephen.wiedl@dnr.ga.gov
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, Water Protection Branch, 7 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30334.

For the Georgia Coastal Management Program certification, you can send a comment to
Federal Consistency Coordinator, Ecological Services Section, Coastal Resources Division,
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, One Conservation Way, Brunswick, Georgia 31523-9600
Telephone 912-264-7218.

The public announcement says: “The applicant may also require assent from the State of Georgia, which may be in the form of a license, easement, lease, permit, or other appropriate instrument.”

You can write to your Georgia state representative or senator or governor or lieutenant governor and ask them to refuse any such instrument.
To find your legislator you can type in your ZIP code here: http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/

You can also write to your U.S. Representative or Senator and ask them to urge the Corps to reject this mine or at least require an EIS, like Rep. Al Lawson (FL-05) already did.

You can also write to the Georgia DNR board, asking them to refuse any such instrument.
Georgia Board of Natural Resources
2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, SE, Suite 1252, Atlanta, GA 30334

You can write to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking them to ask the state of Florida to comment.

To: Mary S. Walker, Regional Administrator, walker.mary@epa.gov
Jeaneanne Gettle, Director, Water Division, gettle.jeaneanne@epa.gov
Blake Ashbee, Chief of Staff, ashbee.blake@epa.gov,
Carol Kemker, Director, Enforcement & Compliance Assurance Division, kemker.carol@epa.gov
Region 4, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Cc: Gregory J. Strong, Director, Northeast Division, Greg.Strong@dep.state.fl.us
Noah Valenstein, Director, Noah.Valenstein@dep.state.fl.us
Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP)
 
Col. Daniel Hibner, Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,Savannah District
Attention: Ms. Holly Ross, holly.a.ross@usace.army.mil,
CESAS-SpecialProjects@usace.army.mil
1104 North Westover Boulevard, Suite 9, Albany, Georgia 31707
 
Stephen Wiedl, Wetlands Unit, stephen.wiedl@dnr.ga.gov
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division,
Water Protection Branch, 7 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA 30334

Re: Applicant: Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, Application Number: SAS-2018-00554

Dear Administrator Walker and Director Gettle,

Here is the pithy request sent by Waterkeepers Florida:

We request EPA to determine, according to 33 CFR § 325.2(b), whether the mining activities of the applicant may affect the quality of the waters of the state of Florida and to notify the state of Florida, the district engineer, and the applicant that Florida therefore “has 60 days from receipt of EPA's notice to determine if the proposed discharge will affect the quality of its waters so as to violate any water quality requirement in such state, to notify EPA and the district engineer in writing of its objection to permit issuance, and to request a public hearing.”

To submit a letter to the editor of the Charlton County Herald, you can email editor@charltonherald.com.
Or write to your local newspaper.
You can also contact radio, TV, and of course post on social media.

For much more about this bad mining idea, see:
wwals.net/pictures/2019-07-12–tpm-usace/.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!