The Georgia Environmental Protection Division wants the public to weigh in on whether a titanium mine will be allowed to operate near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
Conservation groups are urging Georgia’s EPD to block permits for the Twin Pines Minerals mine near the Okefenokee’s intact freshwater wetland system, which extends into Florida.
Ben Prater – southeast program director for the group Defenders of Wildlife – said the Okefenokee refuge is one of the largest east of the Mississippi River, at 438,000 acres.
He added that they’re encouraging Georgians to voice their concerns during the comment period.
“Mining to certain depths – disturbing the geologic layers that allow this ecosystem to function – could just have significant, widespread and deleterious effects to the entire swamp’s ecosystem,” said Prater. “As well as headwaters to two major rivers in the states of Georgia and Florida – the Sewanee and St. Marys.”
Twin Pines Minerals maintains the mine “poses no risk to the environment,” and is fighting some scientists’ claims that the mine could “drain the swamp.”
The company’s website says the proposed site is almost three miles southeast of the nearest Okefenokee boundary.
Prater pointed out that there are concerns about preserving some geologic features of the swamp’s Trail Ridge. He described it as a high ridge of ancient sand dunes which essentially acts as an earthen barrier or dam that keeps water in the swamp.
“That’s vital because the retention of that water – these wet ecosystems – allow for resilience to drought, resilience to wildfires,” said Prater, “and again, the functioning and free-flowing source of clean water for two major rivers, which in and of themselves are important habitats.”
Prater added that the Okefenokee is economically vital to this part of Georgia, supporting about 750 jobs and providing income from recreation and ecotourism.
He noted that Okefenokee is also a potential candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status, which is afforded to only the most remarkable natural landscapes.
This story was written by Danielle Smith, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.