Mining Project Near Georgia Swamp Gets Boost From Regulatory Rollback

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Georgia. (Stuart Tannehill/Florida Times-Union via AP, File)

(CN) — The Trump administration’s rollback of environmental regulations has paved the way for a mining company to skirt federal permitting and commence a controversial project near Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp.

Asserting that its proposed dig no longer requires a federal permit, Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals LLC said on Tuesday that it plans to mine for titanium on about 600 acres of land in Charlton County, near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The company has, for over a year, attempted to obtain a permit under the federal Clean Water Act that would allow it to mine in the area, which is less than 4 miles from protected swamp land near the Georgia-Florida border. 

The Army Corps of Engineers handles permit requests like the one submitted by Twin Pines. The Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era rules opened the door for a reassessment of the $300 million project, and the Corps recently determined that a majority of wetlands that would be impacted by the proposed mine are no longer protected under federal regulations.

“Because waters of the United States will not be affected,” Twin Pines President Steve Ingle said in a statement, “no federal permits will be required.”

The mineral company withdrew its initial permit application in February and submitted a revised one the following month, in which it reduced the amount of land requested by half to the current 600-acre figure.

Twin Pines says the project will last about 20 years and directly employ about 400 full-time workers. But environmentalists fear damage to the ecosystem will outweigh any economic benefit.

“News that federal regulations no longer stand in the way of Twin Pines’ plans to mine near the Okefenokee is both shocking and upsetting – for both the swamp and wetlands across the nation,” a spokesperson for Georgia Conservancy said in a statement on Wednesday.

In an April response to Twin Pine’s revised application for a permit, the environmental group said the location of the proposed mining site is concerning and could harm the habitat that species like the bald eagle and alligator call home.

“The mining would impact wetlands on or adjacent to this tract and could permanently impact the hydrology of the entire Okefenokee Swamp,” a spokesperson for the group said. “Of additional concern, the Okefenokee’s 438,000-acre biodiverse ecosystem is home to the headwaters of two notable rivers, the Suwannee and the St. Marys.”

Twin Pines says it will donate a “significant portion of valuable undisturbed land” from the project area to the state of Georgia to be designated as a conservation area.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, are worried about the wide-ranging impact of the regulatory rollback.

“These decisions are being made across the country, and we’re only starting to see the consequences,” Geoff Gisler, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the Associated Press. “I think what we’ll see over the next several months, until this rule is thrown out or changes, is that we’re going to lose the streams and wetlands that we depend on.”

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