Titanium mine near Okefenokee NWR 2019-07-12

Friday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published Application SAS-2018-00554 for a titanium mine southeast of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Thursday I attended a meeting at the Okefenokee NWR near Folkston about that, and I met with agents of the miners back in April. The application is about the little purple area on this map they showed us at the end of April:

[Context]
Context

But that’s not the whole story; see below. Today this mine proposal is on the agenda for the WWALS board meeting.

Here are some things the application doesn’t tell you: the miners own much more land, right up to the swamp; they’re an offshoot of an Alabama coal mining company; they plan to process the ore in the Suwannee River Basin in Bradford County, Florida; and this is not the only titanium mine in Charlton County, Georgia.

Some meetings are coming up:

  • 6PM, Thursday, July 18, 2019, Charlton County Board of Commissioners, 68 Kingsland Drive, Suite B, Folkston, GA 31537-2872, 912-496-2549
  • Tuesday, August 13, 2019, Public Meeting, Folkston, GA
  • Wednesday, August 14, 2019, Public Meeting, St. George, GA

Those last two meetings are organized by Twin Pines Minerals; I don’t know any more specific times or locations for them yet.

The application does say:

Water Quality Certification: The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, intends to certify this project at the end of 30 days in accordance with the provisions of Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which is required for a Federal Permit to conduct activity in, on, or adjacent to the waters of the State of Georgia…. Any person who desires to comment, object, or request a public hearing relative to State Water Quality Certification must do so within 30 days of the State’s receipt of application in writing and state the reasons or basis of objections or request for a hearing. The application can be reviewed in the Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Branch, Albany Field Office, 1104 North Westover Boulevard, Suite 9, Albany, Georgia 31707.

The Application also says:

Public Hearing: Any person may request, in writing, within the comment period specified in this notice, that a public hearing be held to consider this application for a Department of the Army permit. Requests for public hearings shall state, with particularity, the reasons for requesting a public hearing. The decision whether to hold a public hearing is at the discretion of the District Engineer, or his designated appointee, based on the need for additional substantial information necessary in evaluating the proposed project. Comment Period: Anyone wishing to comment on this application for a Department of the Army permit should submit comments in writing to the Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, Attention: Ms. Holly Ross, 1104 North Westover Boulevard, Suite 9, Albany, Georgia, 31707, or by email to holly.a.ross@usace.army.mil, no later than 30 days from the date of this notice. Please refer to the applicant’s name and the application number in your comments.

If you have any further questions concerning this matter, please contact Ms. Holly Ross, Project Manager, Albany Field Office at 648-422-2727 or via email at holly.a.ross@usace.army.mil.

The application by Steven R. Ingle, Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, 2100 Southbridge Parkway, Birmingham, Alabama 35209, says

Location of Proposed Work: The 2,414 acre site is located North of Georgia Highway 94, West of Georgia Highway 23, and East of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Saint George, Charlton County, Georgia (Latitude 30.5214, Longitude -82.1144).

[Site Locations & Topographic Map]
Site Locations & Topographic Map

But the larger area marked on that map from April is owned by Trail Ridge Land LLC, and extends right up next to the Okefenokee NWR, marked as ONWR in the upper left of this map from the Charlton County Tax Assessor:

[Trail Ridge Land LLC]
Trail Ridge Land LLC
Source: Charlton County Tax Assessors.

I brought three people from Florida to the Thursday meeting, all veterans of Citizens Against Phosphate Mines (CAPM), who have so far successfully fought off the HPS II phosphate mine in Baker County, Florida, and are still working on it in Bradford County, Florida. They are all familiar with decades of mining in Baker and Bradford Once a mine has a permit, it continues to expand.

[GA-FL context]
GA-FL context

Baker and Bradford Counties are are due south of the proposed mine site, as Trail Ridge runs. While the proposed mine site and Charlton County, GA, and Baker County, FL, are mostly in the St. Mary’s River watershed, Bradford County is in the Suwannee River watershed, specifically between the New and Santa Fe Rivers. The New runs into the Santa Fe, which runs into the Suwannee, and on to the Gulf.

[Suwannee River Basin Landings]
Suwannee River Basin Landings
See also WWALS the interactive google map, Landings on the rivers in the Suwannee River Basin: Withlacoochee, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Little, upper and lower Suwannee River watersheds and Estuary, plus Santa Fe River, by Suwannee Riverkeeper, WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc.

Anything that affects the Okefenokee NWR affects the Suwannee River Basin. The only landing marked on the above WWALS map of Landings that is not in the Suwannee River Basin is Suwannee Canal Boat Ramp, at the site of the Thursday meeting. The Upper Suwannee River Basin is indicated by the purplish color, which includes Kingfisher Landing, on the east side of the NWR. There is no wall in the swamp between the St. Mary’s River Basin and the Suwannee River Basin. Actually, there is the Suwannee Canal between the two.

That’s not the only connection of this mine to the Suwannee River Basin. Multiple attendees of the Thursday meeting said they had been told by agents of the miners that the plan is to ship the ore to Twin Pines Minerals’ existing site in Bradford County, Florida, to process. That would be next to the existing Chemours (previously DuPont) mine in Bradford County,

You can see that Chemours mine on the above Landings map, as the vertical white stripe extending from the lower right corner of the map. That’s Trail Ridge, which continues right up through Baker County, FL, and through where these miners want to mine in Charlton County, GA.

During Hurricane Irma, the only pollution spills in the Suwannee River Basin reported to the state of Florida (other than a couple of truck wrecks) were from Chemours mines in Baker and Bradford Counties. Do we want to risk that on Trail Ridge in Charlton County, where downhill is either the Okefenokee Swamp or the St. Mary’s River?

Suwannee River Basin, FDEP

Many people remember that DuPont agreed in 1999 to abandon plans to mine titanium right next to the Okefenokee Swamp, two years after U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit said he has met the enemy and it is DuPont.

Yet mining never left Charlton County. There are active mines there, including a titanium mine. See USACE SAS-2012-01042 by Mr. Jim Renner, Southern Ionic Minerals, LLC, “to continue mining zirconium and titanium mineral sands from the underlying Penholoway Deposit.” That’s in the Satilla River watershed in northeast Charlton County, farther from the swamp, yet not very far.

Local landowners in Charlton County tend to be quite large, and many are opposed to anything that interferes with any plans they may have for their land. Immediately north of the currently-proposed mine site, Toledo Manufacturing Company owns 30,000 acres. According to the Georgia Secretary of State, the registered agent is Alva J. Hopkins III. Usually known as Joe Hopkins, he is in the leadership of the Forest Landowners Association (FLA), “Promoting Private Forests”.

I am a third-generation owner of a scrap of longleaf pine forest, and a member of the Georgia Forestry Association. What’s the difference (other than many more acres)? According to the Forest Landowners Leadership page:

Joe Hopkins
Georgia Landowner, 4th Generation

“No other organization has the central purpose to sustain the forest landowner, not just the forest.”

As Joe Hopkins testified to Congress in 2013, FLA and he are concerned about what he termed “private forest landowners who have been impacted and in some cases devastated by the Endangered Species Act.” He is also on record opposing potential listing of the gopher tortoise as endangered, and “the Environmental Protection Agency’s massive expansion of federally regulated wetlands under the Clean Water Act, known as “Waters of the United States,” because much of the family’s land is flat or in low-lying areas.”

I’m not picking on Joe Hopkins in particular. I’m just quoting his public pronouncements, because he has been quite vocal, as examples of some local sentiment from Charlton County. I wonder how a mine might affect forestry, or basketball, for that matter?

As you probably know, WWALS and Suwannee Riverkeeper joined Waterkeeper Alliance in supporting WOTUS and the Clean Water Act. We have written to EPA twice recently objecting to EPA’s proposal to exclude groundwater from Clean Water Act protections. We co-signed a letter from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) about that, as well.

Consultants for the miners told us back in April that the mine would only go 50 feet deep, would carefully replace the tailings, and in various ways would have very little effect. People from Baker and Bradford Counties have heard all that before.

The consultants did not mention that Steven Ingle, the president of Twin Pines Minerals, used to be the main coal mining engineer for the Drummond Company, a coal-mining titan from Birmingham, Alabama, according to local word from Birmingham. Twin Pines Minerals filed as a Foreign Limited Liability in the State of Florida on Wednesday, February 19, 2014. Johnathan Hall, whose LinkedIn profile says he works for Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, Starke, Florida, previously was the Director of the Alabama Surface Mining Commission and before that an Environmental Engineer Supervisor with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). It’s not clear which Twin Pines in Alabama. At the same address in Birmingham there’s also Twin Pines Global, LLC. At a different address there are also Twin Pines, LLC and Twin Pines II, LLC, which have as registered agent Marigold Land Company, which is a subsidiary of Drummond Company, which proposed to strip mine coal near the Black Warrior River near Birmingham. It’s hard to say whether Twin Pines Coal Company, Inc. is related or just a coincidence of names, but it’s pretty clear that Twin Pines Minerals is an offshoot of Drummond Company, which is a coal strip mining company.

Maybe Twin Pines Minerals is really a more kinder, gentler, mining company than Drummond Company. We could just believe them, but I think we should thoroughly investigate their claims.

The mine application claims:

The proposed activity will result in the full-time employment of approximately 150-200 workers from the local area. It is anticipated that the proposed facility will have an operational life of 8 years.

Well, the Okefenokee NWR supports, directly or indirectly, far more jobs than that. Should we risk the NWR for this mine? Especially considering that just across the state line, the mines don’t seem to employ anybody local.

Locals fish, boat, and swim in the St. Mary’s River all the time. Should we risk that for this mine?

Should we risk the Suwannee River Basin for this mine?

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!

6 thoughts on “Titanium mine near Okefenokee NWR 2019-07-12

  1. Diane Shearer

    No, we absolutely should not risk this. For all we know, a mine with a proposed eight-year life span could do irreparable harm to the watershed.

    Reply
  2. JoAnn Vereen

    Don’t risk support for this project. The area is environmentally sensitive and there is no other place like it in Georgia……or the US. I have visited this area since the sixties and would hope we protect for future generations. Once lost, it can never be recreated!!!!!!! Please don’t let the promise of a few jobs let them destroy this beautiful area that cannot be replaced!

    Reply
  3. Larry

    Where is the Suwannee River in Bradford county located at, I am having trouble finding it in Bradford county as the article spoke of.

    Reply
    1. jsq Post author

      Here you go: “Bradford County is in the Suwannee River watershed, specifically between the New and Santa Fe Rivers. The New runs into the Santa Fe, which runs into the Suwannee, and on to the Gulf.”

      Reply
  4. Nancy M. Albert

    Why is it a given that all industry must be opposed? This article mentions nothing about the environmental steps the company is required to take, the economic benefits or the plan for restoration after the mine is closed.

    Reply
    1. jsq Post author

      We support the solar industry (but not in forested wetlands), and many other industries.
      The blog post does mention the miners’ promises of jobs, and points out why we doubt them,
      as well as the risk to the larger number of jobs supported by the Okefenokee NWR. -jsq

      Reply

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