A contentious mining project near the Okefenokee Swamp, a federally protected wildlife refuge in Georgia, is on the brink of approval as regulators release draft permits for public review. The proposed mine by Twin Pines Minerals, based in Birmingham, Alabama, has faced strong opposition due to concerns about its potential impact on the Okefenokee’s delicate ecosystem.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has opened a 30-day public comment period on the draft permits before finalizing them for approval. Twin Pines Minerals has been seeking permits since 2019 to mine titanium dioxide, located less than 4.8 kilometers from the southeastern boundary of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, a major habitat for various protected species.
While federal scientists and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland have warned about the “unacceptable risk” the mine poses to the swamp’s ecosystem, state regulators maintain that their analysis shows minimal harm to the Okefenokee. Twin Pines President Steve Ingle expressed satisfaction with the decision, emphasizing the company’s commitment to a mining-to-reclamation project that protects the wildlife refuge.
Critics, including environmentalists and lawmakers, argue that the mine could irreversibly damage the Okefenokee Swamp. Josh Marks, an Atlanta environmental attorney, lamented the potential consequences, declaring it a “dark day in Georgia’s history” and expressing concerns about the EPD’s decision.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge spans nearly 1,630 square kilometers and is home to diverse wildlife, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Conservationists worry that the mining project could disrupt the swamp’s ability to hold water and negatively impact its unique biodiversity.
Despite warnings from hydrology experts and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about potential risks to the swamp, Georgia regulators stand by their conclusion that the mine’s impact will be minimal. This controversy unfolds as the National Park Service seeks UNESCO World Heritage site designation for the Okefenokee wildlife refuge, emphasizing its global ecological significance.
The draft permits were released shortly after Twin Pines agreed to pay a $20,000 fine for violating state laws during the soil sampling phase of its permit application. Conservation groups and activists continue to advocate against the mine, with some Georgia lawmakers attempting to pass legislation prohibiting future mining outside the Okefenokee.
As the debate continues, the fate of the proposed mine hangs in the balance, with potential ramifications for the Okefenokee Swamp’s ecological integrity and the ongoing efforts to secure UNESCO recognition for this unique natural treasure.