In February, Twin Pines Minerals (TPM) pulled its mining application, but has recently resubmitted a new 219-page proposal in hopes to receive a permit for a “demonstration project.”
The new proposal states the company plans to scale back on the amount of acreage to be mined in the first phase, decreasing from 2,414 acres to 898 acres. The longterm plan is to mine 12,000 acres near the refuge.
“Calling it a demonstration project at 900 acres seems like a big deal,” stated Ricky Lereoux, Sierra Club Communications Coordinator.
Even with the decrease in size, wildlife and river organizations are not convinced the demonstration will prove the mining will not harm the swamp. The national non-profit American Rivers added the Okefenokee and St. Marys River to the Top 10 Most Endangered Rivers list due to the potential damage from mining.
“The major issue right now is that Twin Pines has not supplied enough information for the Army Corps of Engineers to make a decision,” stated Bill Sapp, Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, “The controversy surrounding the application is whether to require the Environmental Impact Statement.”
Residents and wildlife organizations feel the company is using the re-submittal as a back door to avoid providing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
On January 1, 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed making the EIS necessary for major environmental projects – such as mining. The statement also plays a large roll in decision-making.
“This law made all agencies consider dire effects on the environment,” said Sam Collier, Okefenokee Issues Leader for the Sierra Club, “We need to be absolutely sure it doesn’t harm the swamp.”
The common issue with the proposed mining is the lack of information given by TPM.
In a letter published in the Herald inSeptember of 2019, Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines Minerals, stated, “I have come to realize that regardless of what science says, people are going to accuse us, or the Corps, of putting the swamp in danger. Frankly, I’m tired of talk. We’ve stepped up and are proving our case. For those who are so sure we’re going to harm the swamp, it’s time to step up and prove it.”
However, Sapp says, “In this type of situation, the burden of proof falls on the applicant to prove the mining will not damage the Okefenokee. We just don’t think the Corps has enough information.”
Also in February, the company released a statement stating the studies have shown the Okefenokee would remain safe through the mining process.
The release said, “Top scientific experts have completed comprehensive studies to confirm the viability of Twin Pines’ plans. One such expert is Dr. Robert Holt, nationally recognized hydrologist and professor of geology and geological engineering at the University of Mississippi. He recently completed a set of groundwater models that showed the proposed mine area is conducive to Twin Pines’ innovative dragline mining plan and will meet the strictest environmental regulations.”
The findings of these reports were sent to the Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia Environmental Protection Division. However, fellow experts are not certain the reports are so straightforward.
“The company’s attempt at a hydrology study has been criticized by experts as unclear, incomplete, and problematic,” stated Sapp, “When you’re dealing with a natural resource so precious to Georgians and the rest of the country, you have to be extra careful.”
The company plans to re-spread the sifted soil at the conclusion of the project. Ingle has also stated TPM will replant long-leaf pines (trees native to the Okefenokee) in an effort to help heal the mined property and in the long-run leave it healthier than when they first began. But even with this promise, many feel too much still hangs in the balance.
“If the mining dries out the peat, even a little bit, the fires are going to be terrible,” shared Collier, “Our stance is they should go through the full EIS. It seems like a no-brainer.”
The comment period for this application, originally set for Monday, April 13, has been extended to Tuesday, May 28. A virtual public meeting will also be held Wednesday, May 13 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. 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.
If you would like to attend and to receive the meeting link and security code, send an email to: CESAS-SpecialProjects@usace.army.mil with the subject line “RSVP for 13 MAY Public Meeting TPM” and include your full name, email address, and contact phone number with area code.
To submit a question to be answered during the meeting, send an email to CESAS-SpecialProjects@usace.army.mil with the subject line “Question for Public Meeting TPM” and include your full name and contact phone number. Questions will be answered during the Q&A time in the order they are received, with emailed questions answered first – as time allows.
Repeated questions will be combined under the same topic in order to answer as many questions as possible. All questions received by email prior to the meeting, or in the chat during the meeting, will be incorporated into the public record.
In the meantime, concerned citizens can submit a public comment by emailing CESAS- SpecialProjects@usace.army.mil or by sending a letter to Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, Attention: Ms. Holly Ross, 1104 North Westover Boulevard, Suite 9, Albany, Georgia, 31707.
“If they’re so sure they’re not going to hurt the swamp, then let’s make sure with the EIS,” said Collier, “We’re not opposed to mining, just make sure it’s safe.”