5 reasons why a titanium mine near the Okefenokee Swamp is a terrible idea

Home to some of our nation’s rarest animals, this natural wonder is at risk of being devastated by a 773-acre heavy metals strip mine.

U.S. Department of the Interior via Flickr | Public Domain

The Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia is a hidden ecological gem. It’s part of the largest wildlife refuge east of the Mississippi River and home to some of our nation’s rarest animals — but all that could soon be at risk.

Twin Pines Minerals has proposed building a 773-acre heavy metals strip mine near the Okefenokee. If its plans don’t hit any snags, the company says it could begin mining by this spring.

Together with our allies and thousands of citizen supporters like you, we’re ramping up our campaign to protect the Okefenokee from this disastrous project. We’re calling on Georgia policymakers to stop the proposed mine in its tracks, and we’re raising the public’s voice to make sure decision-makers know where Americans stand on the prospect of spoiling one of our country’s great natural treasures. Even Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has written to Georgia’s governor and urged him not to approve the mine.

Don’t know much about the Okefenokee? Here are our top five reasons why it should be protected.

1) The Okefenokee is home to more than 600 plant species and hundreds of reptile, bird and mammal species

Just a few of the vulnerable, threatened and endangered species that rely on the Okefenokee for their habitat: the gopher tortoise, the wood stork and the indigo snake.

These and other animals living in the area rely most of all on the many wetlands and waterways the swamp has to offer. But the Twin Pines mine would destroy more than 475 acres of wetlands and 412 linear feet of streams on Trail Ridge, a remnant beachfront that runs along the east side of the Okefenokee Swamp and serves as a geological dam.

2) The proposed mine will likely make droughts and wildfires more common

Experts warn that the mine will harm water quality and lower water levels in the swamp, increasing the likelihood of droughts and wildfires.

Rhett Jackson, professor of water resources for the University of Georgia, said one of the primary analyses of the project’s environmental impact is deeply flawed because it uses assessments from sites that don’t accurately represent the water levels of key areas of the Okefenokee.

“In contrast, data from the correct river gauge just south of the swamp shows that groundwater withdrawals from the mining pit will triple the frequency of severe drought in the swamp’s SE portion and the Upper St. Mary’s River,” he said.

“Such an increase in drought frequency will have substantial effects on swamp ecology, wildfire frequency, and boating access for tourism, management, and scientific purposes.”

3) Virtually every part of the mining process will be disruptive and environmentally risky

In its plan for operating the titanium mine, Twin Pines has proposed using a mechanical device to evaporate wastewater — except that, given the humid atmosphere of the swamp and its long periods of wet weather, that process will be difficult at best and permanently damaging to the Okefenokee at worst.

Making the evaporation process successful would mean creating saline clouds that could significantly damage the swamp’s water quality and vegetation, as well as private timberlands adjacent to the mine due to the deposits of salt.

4) Wetlands such as the Okefenokee are critical to the overall health of our environment

Wetlands can serve as sources of drinking water and provide protection against floods and storms.

They function like natural tubs or sponges, storing water and gradually releasing it. This process reduces the water’s erosive potential and mitigates flood heights. Just one acre of wetland can store up to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater.

Then there are wetlands’ filtration capabilities. Wetlands allow sediment suspended in water to drop out and settle to the wetland floor. Some of them perform this function so effectively that environmental managers construct similar artificial wetlands to treat stormwater and wastewater.

And finally, wetlands are hotbeds of biodiversity. Although wetlands hold only about 5% of the land surface in the lower 48 states, they are home to nearly a third of our plant species. 

5) Already, half of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed in the past century

We can’t lose the Okefenokee next.

Together with our supporters, we’ve taken action to protect the Okefenokee in the past. Last year, our national network submitted thousands of comments from our supporters opposing this project, and got a commitment from the Chemours Company, a major chemical company, that it would not participate in the operation. And together, we’ll continue to oppose this project and work to protect this invaluable wild place.

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Authors

Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.

Jennette Gayer

State Director, Environment Georgia

As director, Jennette coordinates policy development, research, outreach and legislative advocacy for Environment Georgia. She has run successful campaigns to designate Georgia’s first outstanding national resource water along the headwaters of the Conasauga River, expand parks along the Chattahoochee River and Jekyll Island State Park, and stop construction of three new coal-fired power plants in Georgia, while also advocating for solar policies that have helped make Georgia one of the top 10 states for solar in the country. She serves on the leadership team for the Georgia Water Coalition, and on the boards of Citizens for Progressive Transit and The Georgia Solar Energy Association. Jennette lives in Atlanta, where she enjoys training for triathlons and hiking and camping in Georgia’s mountains.