FOLKSTON, Ga. - A proposal to mine for minerals near the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp has earned the vast waterway near the Georgia-Florida line a spot on a conservation group’s list of “most endangered” U.S. rivers.
The group American Rivers placed the swamp, as well as the St. Marys River that flows from the Okefenokee to the Atlantic Ocean, on its annual list released Tuesday. The group said the mining plan by Twin Pines Minerals of Alabama threatens to reduce water levels in the swamp and alter the river’s flows.
Twin Pines last month submitted an altered version of its plans for mining titanium dioxide that would substantially shrink the mine’s initial footprint to 898 acres (3.6 square kilometers) compared to 1,450 acres (5.87 square kilometers) under the original proposal.
The swamp is home to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest federally protected refuge east of the Mississippi River, covering nearly 630 square miles (1,631 sq. kilometers). Critics have warned the mining project could cause irreparable harm to the swamp’s fragile ecosystem that serves as habitat to alligators, bald eagles and other protected species.
Twin Pines officials have said their own studies show that mining would have a negligible impact on the swamp.
The company is seeking a mining permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps’ deadline for public comment on the revised proposal had been Monday, but the agency extended it until May 28. It also scheduled a virtual public meeting on the project May 13.