ATLANTA – A South Georgia lawmaker is preparing another effort to stop an Alabama-based company from mining titanium near the Okefenokee Swamp.
State Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, plans to introduce legislation early in this winter’s General Assembly session banning surface mining along Trail Ridge in Charlton County, where Twin Pines Minerals is seeking permits to mine titanium oxide near the edge of the largest black water swamp in North America.
“It’s a very special place,” Taylor said last week. “It’s ecologically important to the region, the state, and the country. If there’s a miscalculation, you can’t correct it.”
Taylor introduced a bill to stop mining near the Okefenokee during this year’s legislative session. But when the bill died in the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee, the project’s opponents settled for passing a non-binding resolution recognizing the importance of the swamp and encouraging efforts to promote it as a tourist destination.
House lawmakers approved the resolution in early April at a time the question of whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) held jurisdiction over permits for the proposed mine was up in the air.
“They were batting it back and forth,” Taylor said. “We didn’t feel like it was a good time to move it forward until we knew who had authority over it.”
Since then, the EPD has resumed its review of Twin Pines’ plan. The Army Corps stepped aside last summer in an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit filed by Twin Pines.
Josh Marks, an environmental attorney and a leader of a successful effort during the 1990s to stop DuPont Chemical from strip mining near the Okefenokee, welcomed the renewal of Taylor’s bid to block the Twin Pines project.
“With leading scientific experts from [the University of Georgia] saying that mining on Trail Ridge will lower the swamp’s water level and drop salt into the swamp, with devastating consequences, there’s simply no justification for allowing any mining there,” Marks said. “That’s why legislation … is so desperately needed.”
The Biden administration also weighed in on the project recently. After visiting the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in September, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland sent a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp urging the state not to approve the proposed mine.
Twin Pines officials argue the mine does not threaten the swamp, noting the proposed site for the project is about three miles from the southeast corner of the Okefenokee at its closest point. The company also is pledging to restore the land to its original contours and native vegetation after mining activity is completed.
EPD spokeswoman Sara Lips wrote in an email the agency will conduct a public comment period on the project – likely to run for 60 days – beginning at a date yet to be determined. Additionally, EPD is accepting comments at TwinPines.Comments@dnr.ga.gov, which will be considered during the permitting process.