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SWAMP THING: Federal officials are continuing to express concerns about the potential environmental impacts of a proposed titanium mine near the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia while the company behind it has allegedly pushed back against the idea of a major government assessment of those impacts.
In documents newly obtained by Defenders of Wildlife and shared with The Hill, officials say that the mine may pose environmental risks to the swamp and express doubt over an assessment by the company, Twin Pines Minerals LLC.
Although officials have previously raised concerns about the project, the new documents show continued concern after Twin Pines submitted a proposal to reduce the size of the area that would be mined.
And in additional documents that were previously reported, a governmental official says that Twin Pines alleged that a government environmental impact statement (EIS) on the mine would be bad for business and offered an alternative.
Twin Pines president Steve Ingle said in a statement provided to The Hill that studies have shown that the project will not impact water levels.
He added that the company would welcome an “environmental review” but said that an EIS would be extremely costly and time consuming.
In a comment dated May 28, Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) field supervisor Donald Imm wrote that the mine could harm the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
“We have concerns that the proposed project may pose risks to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (OKENWR) and the natural environment due to the location, associated activities, and cumulative effects of similar projects in the area,” he said. “We opine that the impacts are not sufficiently known and whatever is done may be permanent.”
Imm’s letter raised concerns about the impacts to both the environment and animal species and noted the importance of the swamp on the area’s tourism economy.
And an assessment dated July 17 by an FWS hydrologist raised what it described as “errors in conclusions drawn concerning the impact of proposed mining on swamps to the west of the 2020 proposed mining area.”
Meanwhile, an Army Corps of Engineers official said in a previously reported email from January that “the applicant was adamant that doing the EIS right now was unacceptable for his business, but did not necessarily dispute the fact that one was likely necessary at some point.”
“Instead, they offered the option of reducing the project such that it would be a 2-3 year ‘demonstration project’ which would allow some work to commence and collect data in support of the larger overall project,” the email said.
The company had initially proposed mining 1,450 acres in 2019, but withdrew that permit application in February of 2020, just weeks after the email saying it had offered the option of the reduced project.
And in March it submitted an application for a permit for a “demonstration mining project for a reduced mining area of approximately 898 acres.”
In response to the documents, Ingle said in a statement that “questions have been raised, but they have been answered.”
“Extensive studies have demonstrated conclusively that the proposed mine will have no impact on water levels in the Okefenokee Swamp. The original study was performed by Dr. Robert Holt, world-renowned hydrogeologist and professor of geology and geological engineering at the University of Mississippi, and it was confirmed by hydrologists and geologists at the University of Alabama,” Ingle said.
“Dr. Holt has also addressed the questions presented by FWS. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reviewed the study and stated that it agrees with Dr. Holt’s conclusions,” he added.
Ingle also said that the company would welcome “environmental review” but said that formal environmental impact statements are “bureaucratic exercises that cost millions of dollars and take many years to complete.”
“EIS is rarely required for activities on private land,” he said. “There was no reason why an EIS should have been required even for the original project.”
He added that the Army Corps “acknowledged that an EIS was not required” for the downsized project.
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