Environmental groups are urging Georgia’s Environmental Protection Department to refuse permits to build a titanium mine near an intact freshwater wetland system known as the Okefenokee Swamp, which stretches into Florida.
The struggle to protect the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has left many confused because of the murky new US wetland policy instituted under the Trump administration. Ultimately, the Twin Pines Minerals Company successfully sued the US Army Corps of Engineers, which dropped its federal protection of the swamp in a settlement.
Christian Hunt, representative of Defenders of Wildlife’s Southeast program, said he was shocked to see the Corps’ flip-flop, which allowed the mining company to extend its plans to mine more than 500 acres on the edge of the largest US National Wildlife Refuge to advance east of the Mississippi if it receives state approval.
“We think this is an inappropriate neighbor,” Hunt claimed. “There is inconsistent land use adjacent to this prime conservation area, and dozens of scientists have expressed such sentiments, so let’s follow the science on that.”
Twin Pines Minerals claims the mine “poses no risk to the environment” and disputes claims by scientists that the mine “drains the swamp”. The Georgian Environment Department announced that the deliberations would continue and that the public would soon become involved. Updates will be posted on the department’s website.
The mine has even received bipartisan opposition from scientists at the agency. In 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the proposed mine could pose “significant risks” to the swamp, including its ability to hold water. Hunt said the mine posed a major hazard to the swamp’s Trail Ridge, a high sand ridge that runs from Starke, Fla. to southwest of Jesup, Georgia.
“Essentially like an earth dam to the Okefenokee,” explained Hunt. “Maintaining and manipulating the water level in the swamp is very important due to the concern that the Okefenokee would essentially destroy the Okefenokee’s ability to sustain itself if mining is conducted here.”
The sanctuary covers almost 630 square miles and is home to alligators, bald eagles and other protected wildlife. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, estimates that the swamp attracts around 600,000 visitors each year.