By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) — Georgia officials are accepting public comments on a proposed strip mine in Charlton County near the Okefenokee Swamp, and a U.S. senator from Georgia is elevating his concerns about the plan.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is weighing a draft Mining Land Use Plan submitted by Twin Pines Minerals. The company has applied for permits to mine heavy mineral sands for titanium and zirconium from a 582-acre tract located on State Route 94 in St. George.
The location is roughly 2.9 miles southeast of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge at its closest point, according to the company.
The company said it plans to only mine a small portion of its parcel at any time, digging to an average depth of 50 feet. It also said it plans to replace the soil to “present-day elevations and contours” within 20 days of removing the minerals.
“The Okefenokee is an irreplaceable and unique natural resource,” U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, said during a virtual press conference Wednesday. “All wetlands are precious, but this is not just any wetland. This is the only blackwater wetland ecosystem of its kind on the entire continent.
“The wildlife and vegetation native to the swamp are extraordinary in their biodiversity, and this is a fragile ecosystem,” Ossoff added. “It’s also a place beloved by and precious to Georgians of all backgrounds and views from every region of our state, a place that has inspired young people in Georgia to love and cherish the great outdoors for generations.”
Ossoff cited the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s and a University of Georgia hydrology professor’s concerns about the mine’s impact on the Okefenokee.
In August, Twin Pines Minerals announced a settlement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps agreed to reinstate a pair of “approved jurisdictional determinations” that it withdrew in June, which allowed the Georgia EPD to resume its review.
“I am urging the Environmental Protection Division of the state of Georgia to take into account … the scientific conclusions of all experts who are weighing in as they make a determination about this permit,” Ossoff said.
Twin Pines declined to comment on Ossoff’s comments. Separately, Ossoff and other Georgia lawmakers want the U.S. Interior Department to nominate the Okefenokee as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.