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Conservationists: Proposed Mining Project Threatens Wildlife Refuge

The Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge is the largest blackwater swamp in North America, and one of the "Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia." (Stacy Shelton/US Fish and Wildlife Service)
The Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge is the largest blackwater swamp in North America, and one of the "Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia." (Stacy Shelton/US Fish and Wildlife Service)
November 5, 2020

LAKE CITY, Fla. -- Conservationists say a proposed mining project near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge poses a real risk for the more than 400,000-acre protected area.

It's the largest wildlife refuge east of the Mississippi, and it protects thousands of species.

A Trump administration rollback of federal wetland and waterway protections has removed a hurdle for Twin Pines Minerals, which intends to mine roughly 8,000 acres of the Trail Ridge for titanium.

But Christian Hunt, southeast representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said the Trail Ridge is a natural dam that plays a critical hydrological role, ensuring water is stored and flowing.

"It would result in a degradation of air and water quality," Hunt contended. "It would impact the wilderness and recreational appeal of one of our last great places here in the Southeast."

Hunt explained the Okefenokee is the last self-sustaining, large-scale wetland in the lower 48 states.

He added other wetlands, such as the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina and the Everglades in Florida, have been compromised by industrial and agricultural development.

The Trump rollbacks removed protections for roughly 400 acres of Okefenokee-adjacent wetlands previously covered under the Clean Water Act.

This means Twin Pines' mining project requires no federal oversight, although Hunt pointed out they do still need state permits. Hunt remarked the company has a history of environmental noncompliance.

"Twin Pines, in short, is trying to avail itself of illegal rollbacks under the Trump administration," Hunt contended.

Hunt said the Okefenokee, located in North Florida and Southeastern Georgia, is among the top ten most-visited wildlife refuges in the country, and an economic anchor, contributing millions of dollars to the four counties surrounding it, including Baker County in Florida.

He urged concerned citizens to reach out to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

"Hold the Trump administration accountable," Hunt emphasized. "And then also encourage Georgia EPD to do right by this project, and to take action that's commensurate with the value of the resource at stake."

Disclosure: Defenders of Wildlife contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species and Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, and Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Lily Bohlke, Public News Service - FL