Defenders of Wildlife applauded an announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers that it vacated the jurisdictional determination for a mining project threatening the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia, following pressure from Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and the notification that the Corps had not fully consulted with or considered the wetland’s cultural and historical significance to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The announcement deals a major blow to Twin Pines Minerals, an Alabama-based mining company that proposed the strip mine along the edge of the swamp, and will require the company to restart the federal process. Defenders of Wildlife, as a member of the Okefenokee Protection Alliance, has been a consistent proponent for this federal oversight.
“Twin Pines has long evaded federal oversight and review,” said Christian Hunt, Southeast representative at Defenders of Wildlife. “With the public process restored, Twin Pines should spare the Okefenokee and abandon this project once and for all.”
In 2019, Twin Pines announced they were pursuing approval for a roughly 8,000-acre titanium dioxide strip mine along the Trail Ridge, a natural barrier that maintains the Okefenokee Swamp. By destroying its unique soil profile and pumping groundwater from the swamp’s edge, mining could fatally undermine the Okefenokee’s ability to sustain itself. As a result of these major concerns, the plan was immediately met with universal outcry.
In 2020, Twin Pines took advantage of a Trump rollback--the Waters of the United States replacement rule—which ultimately removed federal oversight from the project. A federal judge eventually struck down the rule changes in August 2021, though the Okefenokee did not automatically regain federal oversight. Until now, Twin Pines only needed permits from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to break ground on the project.
In 2021, a bipartisan group of Georgia and former federal officials signed an open letter criticizing the project in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Earlier this year, Georgia state legislators introduced House Bill 1289, which would ban future mining along the Trail Ridge. In all, over 100,000 people have signed comments at the state and federal level urging the government to save the Okefenokee.
The Okefenokee Swamp is a vital natural resource in Georgia. At roughly half a million acres, the Okefenokee is one of the largest intact freshwater ecosystems in the world and home to various threatened and endangered species. The refuge records as many as 700,000 annual visits, supporting 753 permanent local jobs and injecting $64.7 million into the local economy. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is being actively considered for potential UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination.