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Okefenokee Swamp: More than 60,000 public comments in period ending Thursday

David Pendered

By David Pendered

May 28, Thursday, is the deadline for public comments on the proposed sand mine at the Okefenokee Swamp, a proposal that has garnered attention from environmental advocates nationwide. More than 60,000 public comments have been submitted, the Georgia River Network announced in a morning email.

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. File/Credit: Twin Pines Minerals

Public comments are being accepted until 5 p.m. on Thursday, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday morning. Comments can be emailed to the corps at a site available on this page.

The number of comments about this proposal has risen dramatically as skeptics of the mining operation have stepped up their campaign nationwide. Two periods of public comments were conducted – the first on an initial application, the second on a revised application involving less land.

The second round has attracted 44,220 comments, according to the email from the Georgia River Network. The sheer number of comments is highlighted in a comment from Christian Hunt, of Defenders of Wildlife:

  • “For a typical permit decision, the Corps might receive a handful to hundreds of comment letters. [The number] 44,000 sends a clear message to the Corps. People do not want to risk the Okefenokee for common minerals that can be easily found elsewhere.”

The first round of public comment had attracted 20,338 comments when it closed Sept. 12, 2019, according to a statement from the corps, the federal agency that oversees the permitting process.

Little Suwanee Creek disappears into the trees and brush that grows in a sunny area on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. File/Credit: David Pendered

Twin Pines LLC is the company seeking permission to mine heavy sands, which contain titanium, from Trail Ridge. The ridge extends about 100 miles on an North-South axis along the eastern edge of the swamp.

Twin Pines has filed two permit requests. An initial request involved about 12,000 acres and withdrawn before the corps had issued a ruling. A second request was submitted in March, involving what the company portrays as a demonstration project on a tract covering 1,042 acres. This second application is the one subject to the public comment period that closes Thursday.

Meanwhile, the company is closing, or has closed, a titanium mine in Florida. This mine also is located along Trail Ridge, at a site about 45 miles due South of the proposed mine near the Okefenokee Swamp.

Twin Pines notified Florida’s Department of Economic Development of its plans to eliminate all jobs by June 30 at a sand mine near the rural town of Starke, Fl. The job losses in Florida are likely to be permanent, according to a letter dated Feb. 6. 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.”

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 letter doesn’t cite the economic impact of jobs to be eliminated. Such information could be a gauge of the economic impact to be expected at the proposed mine in Georgia.

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.

 

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David Pendered
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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