SAVANNAH, Ga. – A federal agency has dealt a major blow to a company’s controversial plan to mine near the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp and its vast nature reserve.
A government memo Friday said the Army Corps of Engineers is asserting jurisdiction over Twin Pines Minerals’ proposal to mine minerals directly outside the United States OkefenokeeHome to the largest US wildlife refuge east of the Mississippi River.
Scientists have warned that mining near the swamp’s bowl-like rim could affect its ability to hold water. They asked the Army Corps of Engineers to deny the project a permit. But the agency said in 2020 that it no longer had that authority after regulatory withdrawals under then-President Donald Trump narrowed the types of waterways that can be protected under the Clean Water Act.
Trump’s rollbacks were later scrapped by the federal government Dishes. President Joe Biden’s administration has made an effort to do so restore federal oversight of development projects allowed under Trump to circumvent regulations to prevent polluting streams or draining wetlands.
Michael Connor, the Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, said in Friday’s memo that previous decisions relinquishing the Army Corps’ jurisdiction over Georgia’s mining plan and another proposed mine outside of Tucson, Arizona, had been reversed.
Connor wrote that both projects would have to start over with new applications for federal permits. He said the previous decisions that allowed them to bypass federal regulators “were not valid” because tribal governments with ancient ties to the proposed mining sites were not consulted.
The Twin Pines project in Georgia must be consulted with the Muscogee Creek Nation before moving forward, the memo said.
“We have said since the day we announced our plans that we will comply with the regulations in front of us at all times,” Twin Pines President Steve Ingle said in a statement. He added, “We intend to move forward with our application and meet all requirements.”
US Senator Jon Ossoff, a Georgia Democrat who has campaigned against the proposed mine outside of Okefenokee since taking office last year, called the decision a major victory.
“I am pleased to announce the restoration of protection for this nature reserve and the surrounding wetlands,” Ossoff said in a statement late Friday. “The Okefenokee is a natural wonder and one of Georgia’s most valuable lands. I will keep fighting to protect it for future generations.”
Alabama-based Twin Pines had been waiting for a permitting decision from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, the only regulatory agency, ahead of Friday’s federal government decision restoring the Army Corps regulator over 556 acres (225 hectares) of wetlands in the United States mining area planned with the supervision of the project.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge covers nearly 630 square miles (1,630 square kilometers) in southeast Georgia and is home to alligators, bald eagles, and other protected species. The swamp’s wildlife, cypress forests and flooded prairies draw about 600,000 visitors each year, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge.
Two decades ago, chemical giant DuPont backed out of plans to mine outside of the Okefenokee after facing stiff opposition. Twin Pines wants permits to mine a small fraction of the acreage that DuPont is pursuing. Ingle has insisted his company can mine the site without damaging the swamp.
Government scientists were skeptical. In February 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote that the proposed mine could pose “significant risks” to the swamp, including its ability to hold water. Some impacts, it said, “may not be reversible, repaired, or mitigated.”
Nature conservation groups applauded the government’s decision.
“Mining on the doorstep of a rare ecological treasure like Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp defies common sense,” said Kelly Moser, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who specializes in clean water issues. “And we’re thrilled that this announcement eliminates the threat to hundreds of acres of critically important wetlands.”
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/04/agency-ruling-delivers-big-setback-to-okefenokee-mining-plan/ The agency’s decision is a major setback to Okefenokee’s mining plan