New Effort Emerges to Stop Mining Near the Okefenokee Swamp

Dave Williams

Monday, March 25th, 2024

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Legislative efforts to block a proposed titanium mine near the Okefenokee Swamp have taken a new turn.

The Georgia House of Representatives is expected to vote Tuesday on a bill declaring a three-year moratorium on acceptance of applications for dragline surface mining permits of heavy sands minerals. That’s the mining technique and type of minerals contemplated by Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals in its plan to mine titanium oxide along Trail Ridge.

The bill follows an announcement last month that the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has issued draft mining permits to Twin Pines for a 700-plus-acre demonstration site in Charlton County, the first step toward opening an 8,000-acre strip mine along the southeastern border of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The bill would limit Twin Pines to a pilot project and restrict mining to that site until scientific data can be obtained to determine the effects of the mine on surrounding ecosystems.

Legislation to ban mining along Trail Ridge has been bottled up in the a House committee during the last three General Assembly sessions, despite being endorsed by more than half of the 180 House lawmakers, while a bill introduced this year has drawn opposition because it would have allowed mining permits to be issued by default,

“Our organization strongly believes another path forward in protecting Trail Ridge and the Okefenokee is needed,” said Katherine Moore, president of the Georgia Conservancy. “(The new bill), if passed, would provide this opportunity by allowing for methodical and intentional steps to be made toward a potential long-term conservation solution for the eastern barrier of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.”

While Twin Pines executives have said the proposed mine would not harm the swamp, scientific studies have concluded it would significantly damage one of the largest intact freshwater wetlands in North America by drawing down its water level and increasing the risk of drought and fires.

More than a dozen cities and counties across South Georgia and other parts of the state have passed resolutions opposing the mine, and the project has drawn intense opposition at public hearings and in written comments to the EPD.

The legislation expected to go before the House is an amendment to an unrelated bill the state Senate passed last year. If the House passes the measure, it would have to go back to the Senate before it could gain final passage.