Starting in 2020, a lengthy debate as to which government agencies have jurisdiction over permits affecting the Okefenokee Swamp greatly delayed the approval process for Twin Pines’ permit. The process involved the US Army Corps of Engineers and GA Environmental Protection Division, as well as a lawsuit from Twin Pines. Ultimately, the decision landed in the EPD’s lap. View all past documents from this process through November 2022, including water, air, and land management plans from Twin Pines, on the EPD’s website.
An Ecosystem in Jeopardy
In 2018, Twin Pines Minerals, LLC submitted a mining proposal to extract titanium dioxide and other heavy minerals from the sandy soils of Trail Ridge. Since then, their proposal has taken many forms, the most recent as a permit for the first phase of what will eventually be an 8,000-acre mine.
Explore the timeline below to understand the serious environmental flaws of Twin Pines’ plan for a mine of any size, as well as the actions community members, state leaders, and organizations are taking to protect the Okefenokee.
Twin Pines’ proposal in limbo
Draft Mining Land Use Plan released
Hydrology assessment and concerns
In December 2022, Twin Pines released a hydrologic assessment to determine the proposed mine’s impacts on the swamp’s water systems. Though a mitigation plan for the mine was proposed, it contains several deficiencies, arguably doing nothing to prevent the loss of nearly all wetland habitat currently existing in the mining area. Additionally, hydrologists argue that the EPD’s current assessment of the mine’s impact is based on an inappropriate gage and therefore inaccurately claims little to no affect on the swamp’s hydrology.
2023 Legislative Session
During the 2023 Legislative Session, Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, introduced House Bill 71. Also known as the Okefenokee Protection Act, this bill sought to protect the Okefenokee Swamp from surface mining. While its passage would not have affected Twin Pines’ demonstration mine proposal, it would have prevented future expansion of operations. Despite receiving overwhelming bipartisan support, the bill stalled in the House. There is great optimism that it will pass in 2024, when it will be considered by the Natural Resources Committee.
Many voices rise in opposition to the mine
In addition to the 170,000 comments submitted to agencies responsible for permitting the Twin Pines mine, the cities of Brunswick, Valdosta, St. Marys, Kingsland, Homeland, and Waycross/Ware County passed resolutions asking for protection for the Okefenokee Swamp and the citizens they represent. Faith leaders have encouraged Charlton County Commissioners to not allow the swamp to be desecrated by the project, and thousands of concerned citizens showed up to the EPD’s two public meetings in February 2023. At the national level, the Interior Secretary urged Governor Kemp to oppose mining the Okefenokee, and GA Senators Ossoff and Warnock led the charge to designate the Okefenokee as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi
The Okefenokee Swamp covers 440,000 acres. That’s more than three times the total land mass of all Georgia’s barrier islands! It includes 370,000 acres of freshwater wetlands—an area larger than all of Georgia’s tidal salt marshes—and 353,981 acres of wilderness area, more than half the size of the Smoky Mountain National Park.
An Evolving Ecosystem
One million years ago, when sea levels were much higher than today, Trail Ridge was a barrier island. This geological feature allowed for freshwater to accumulate in what is now the Okefenokee Swamp. The swamp as we know it today began forming five to seven thousand years ago when the peat moss first established in the area.
An Ecological—and Economic—Driver for our Region
The Okefenokee Swamp supports more than 750 local jobs in Charlton County and Southeast Georgia. Approximately 600,000 annual visitors come from all 50 states and ~35 countries.
A Wonder of the World
In addition to its status as a National Wildlife Refuge and a Wetland of International Importance, the Okefenokee is on the “tentative list” of United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites.