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Okefenokee mining applicant laid off entire staff of 40 at sand mine it’s closing in Fl

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By David Pendered

The entire staff of 40 workers is being laid off in North Florida by a mining company seeking permission to open a mine and excavate sand near the Okefenokee Swamp. Few details are available about the job cuts in Florida or the mine being closed in the rural town of Starke, Fl.

A sand mine in Starke, Fl. is being closed as the same company, Twin Pines Minerals, seeks permission to open a sand mine near the Okefenokee Swamp. Credit: Twin Pines Minerals

The company, Twin Pines Minerals, notified Florida’s Department of Economic Development of the layoffs in a letter dated Feb. 6. All jobs are likely to be eliminated, no later than June 30.

The notice is required under the Federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act. The act requires companies to give notice of mass layoffs in order to provide workers, families and communities with time to prepare for the job cuts.

A flurry of public activity began when Twin Pines dated its letter to the Florida state government.

On Feb. 7, the day after dating the letter to Florida, Twin Pines dated a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The company withdrew that day its application for permission to mine sand on a 12,000-acre tract in Georgia. The withdrawal came before the corps had ruled on the application, meaning the company could resubmit without prejudice. The proposal had generated more than 20,000 responses from the public, many of them negative.

On March 6, Twin Lakes dated to the corps an application to mine sand in 898 acres in a tract covering 1,042 acres. This application is open for public comment, though the duration of the comment period is in question because of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus response. Opponents also have called for extending the comment period beyond the coronavirus situation.

Meantime, layoff are underway at the sand mine east of Starke, Fl.

This Twin Pines mine is located outside the county seat of Bradford County. Starke is about 60 miles due south of the site of the proposed sand mine in Georgia. The two mines are located along Trail Ridge, a ridge of sand that extends more than 100 miles along a North-South axis east of Okefenokee Swamp.

Valuable deposits of titanium were discovered in the ridge sands after World War II and have been mined by a company best known as DuPont. Twin Pines also had a sand mine, the one that’s to be closed.

The job losses in Florida at the Starke facility are likely to be permanent, according to a letter that states:

  • “The entire plant is to eventually be closed. Job eliminations are expected to be permanent, and are scheduled to occur between February 7, 2020 and June 30, 2020.”

Current employees won’t get special treatment in applying for another job with the company, according to the letter:

  • “The affected employees do not have ‘bumping rights’ and are not represented by any labor organization or other representative.
  • “Each employee will be given a description of their benefits and information about the opportunity to transfer to open positions in alternative Twin Pines location will be made available.”

The letter doesn’t cite the economic impact of jobs to be eliminated. The letter concludes with a list of positions and the number of jobs in each category:

  • Plant operators: 7;
  • Shipping: 1;
  • Equipment operators: 15;
  • Maintenance: 2;
  • Lab: 9;
  • Exploration: 6.

Census figures suggest these jobs are important in Starke.

The town’s population is reported at 5,411 residents and about 1,200 of them are in poverty, based on a poverty rate of 23 percent.

Fewer than half the residents work in the civilian labor force, 46 percent. There’s no military base offering significant employment nearby. The average commute to work is 33 minutes. Internet subscriptions exist in 60 percent of residences. Computers are in 68 percent of the town’s residences.

A high school diploma is the norm – 78 percent have a high school degree and 10 percent went on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Nearly half the residents are in an owner-occupied dwelling that have a median value of $86,400.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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