The Okefenokee Wilderness, part of one of the world’s largest still intact blackwater swamp ecosystems and important habitat for native wildlife such as black bears, American alligators, and red-cockaded woodpeckers, is once again threatened by a titanium and zirconium mine at the doorstep of its namesake national wildlife refuge (NWR). The 354,000-acre Okefenokee Wilderness in southern Georgia makes up almost 90 percent of the Okefenokee NWR and is one of the largest Wilderness areas in the East.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Twin Pine Minerals of Birmingham, Alabama that a full environmental impact statement (EIS) would be required to evaluate the adverse impacts of its proposed 12,000-acre titanium and zirconium strip mine on the Okefenokee’s eastern edge. Facing significant public opposition and concerns from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Twin Pines Minerals announced on February 10, 2020 that it was withdrawing its proposal. Twin Pines has since resubmitted an application for the first phase of the mine as a “demonstration project” spanning 898 acres in the hopes of avoiding the scientific scrutiny and public comments that go with a full-blown EIS. Their latest proposal asks the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA EPD) to grant five permits needed to excavate the heavy minerals.
In 2019 and 2020, Wilderness Watch members and supporters sent over 35,000 emails to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urging them to reject the Twin Pines Minerals strip mine proposal. We’ll continue to pressure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject Twin Pines Minerals’ ill-advised mine. Additionally, WW members and supporters sent 13,000 emails to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division in Spring 2021.
BACKGROUND: Twin Pines's plans to first excavate and process minerals on 2,400 acres next to the refuge to an average depth of 50 feet. Later work, continuing for as many as 30 years, would alter almost 12,000 acres. Similar mineral deposits run the entire length of Trail Ridge on the eastern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, so strip mining could potentially occur along the Refuge’s entire eastern boundary.
Water is critical to the well-being of Okefenokee, which is recognized worldwide as a Wetland of International Importance. The proposed mine could impact thousands of acres of wetlands, which would forever change the unique ecosystem of the Swamp. Wilderness values like solitude, silence, and remoteness could be impacted by the close proximity of industrial mining activity and associated development.
The Okefenokee Swamp is one of the world’s largest still intact blackwater swamp ecosystems, and provides important habitat for native wildlife such as black bears, American alligators, and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Wilderness Watch is urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect the Okefenokee and the rare Wilderness experience it provides by rejecting the Twin Pines Minerals strip mine proposal.
Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service