EDITOR’S NOTE: Many Nassau County residents don’t know that St. Marys Riverkeeper, as part of a 15-member network of Riverkeeper organizations in Florida, is responsible for monitoring waterways in two Florida counties, including Nassau. In fact, several of our residents volunteer to help monitor water quality in Nassau. Although the mine discussed in this commentary is in Georgia, it would be a mistake to think that the problem is in “Georgia’s lane,” as one county commissioner recently put it. The pristine St. Marys River washes our boundary for many miles and merges with our own rivers and creeks along the way. It’s our river, too.
By Emily Floore
St. Marys Riverkeeper (Riverkeeper) is a 501(c)3 private environmental advocacy organization formed in 2016 charged with protecting the St. Marys River. Riverkeeper represents the four counties (Camden and Charlton in Georgia and Nassau and Baker in Florida) and many communities sharing stewardship responsibilities for the St. Marys River. The St. Marys River is the focus of the organization’s work to improve water quality in areas designated as swimmable and fishable; ensure the river thrives for future generations through resiliency projects and community partnerships; promote low-impact development in a fast-growing area; seek solutions to water quality issues; and advocate against industrial threats.
The St. Marys River forms the border between Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida. Arising from the Okefenokee Swamp, the river flows 130 miles to the Atlantic Ocean emptying at Cumberland Island National Seashore. Bookended by two national treasures, our St. Marys River is pristine from Swamp to Sea, but a river is only as healthy as its headwaters and tributaries.
St. Marys Riverkeeper opposes the Mining Land Use Plan Permit submitted by Twin Pines Minerals, LLC (TPM) for Saunders Demonstration Mine in Charlton County, application number SAS-2018-00554-SP-HAR, on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys River. The company has failed to present compelling evidence that its operation will not irrevocably harm the region’s delicate ecosystem. The St. Marys River watershed is too important to risk for experimental and untested mining methods.
Riverkeeper’s concerns include but are not limited to: water level monitoring, process water management, water withdrawal, and reclamation plan. To read all of Riverkeeper’s concerns, see our Public Comment on our website.
TPM has a poor record for environmental stewardship in Georgia and Florida, each state initiating legal action against the company during the past six years. While processing tailings at two of the four Chemours titanium mines on Trail Ridge in north Florida, TPM spilled wastewater during Hurricane Irma. Because of that and other infractions, TPM is still under a Florida Consent Order.
As a result of their prior experience, there is an expectation for a Land Use Plan that provides an outline of handling environmental catastrophes such as spills, berm breaches, or and other adverse effects. In Georgia, a Clean Water Act civil suit brought against Twin Pines-affiliated companies of Georgia Renewable Power, LLC and Greenfuels Energy LLC in 2019, resulted in a $625,000 settlement for the plaintiffs. Toxins were being illegally discharged into the air and streams resulting in fish kills and compromising wetlands.
On Nov. 22, 2022, the Secretary of the Interior wrote a letter urging the Georgia EPD to protect the Okefenokee Swamp and stated that “The Department will exercise its own authorities to protect the swamp ecosystem and will continue to urge our State and Federal partners to take steps under their own authorities to do the same.” The U.S. EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service have also filed letters of opposition. The evidence and the number of organizations and people in opposition indicate Georgia EPD should reject all state applications from TPM and fulfill their mission to protect and restore Georgia’s and Florida’s environment by taking the lead in ensuring clean air, water, and land.
–Emily Floore, Executive Director/Riverkeeper
St. Marys Riverkeeper
The Twin Pines mining “plan” is a sham. There are no backup plans for accidental wastewater overflows or discharges, the evaporation method of wastewater is unproven, and the underground horizontal clay water barrier is not supported by most hydrologists. In addition, the river flow predictions are based on faulty models, likely resulting in much more pollution than the mining company or GA Environmental Protection Department has predicted. Please go to the St Marys Riverkeeper website for more information and to links to GA EPD and legislators to oppose this mining project. And kudos to Emily and Riverkeeper staff and volunteers for the great work they are doing!
Wastewater?? What wastewater? They only use rain water and a centrifuge in titainium oxide mining
This is an important issue and your voice is needed.
Emily, Thank you for taking the lead in drawing attention to the issue and providing information on how we can ensure our voice is heard.
Please see links above in my comment for petitions from several groups.
Signed the petition. Thanks.
There are several petitions going on this topic and The NY Times had a detailed article on the issue recently by a regional reporter who has covered the area for a long time. article here not sure if public link: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/27/opinion/okefenokee-swamp-georgia.html?searchResultPosition=2. Links to petitions- comments closed end of day today at 4:30 pm eastern: https://act.southernenvironment.org/1jifHZA?p2asource=newsfeed & https://preserve.nature.org/page/93037/action/1?locale=en-US
Emily is doing a fantastic job with incredibly important work that crosses not only county but state lines, in order to protect all of us that live, work and recreate in and around the waterways. The comment period for the Twin Pines mining project is open through today.
The Riverkeeper has also issued formal opposition to the port transporting cement powder and fertilizer, chock full of scientific data regarding the hazards caused by even small spills.
How do we, as Florida residents, voice our objections in Georgia to this mining permit from a company with a clearly bad track record of unsafe and environmentally insensitive and hazardous track record? In my experience the best predictor of the future is the past. Twin Pines has shown us who they are and how they are likely to behave in the future.
Sign the petition linked in Anne’s comment.
100% agree! Not sure if the comment period has ended yet or not, but if it hasn’t everyone SHOULD speak out against this proposed mine. The Okefenokee and the St. Mary’s River are too vital for a mining company to come in and destroy for a short term project. This company has a track record of tearing up areas and NOT correcting what they destroy. What makes this mine any different? Nothing.
Titainium has been safely ‘mined’ in SE Georgia often near the swamp and waterways for 50 years, the thin layer of titainium oxide is extracted with rainwater in a centrifuge from normally 3 to 4 feet below the surface inbetween clear cutting and replanting pine plantations…the topsoil is scraped back and titainium washed out in an area of a city block, topsoil replaced and pines planted… no one has ever mined in the swamp or on the river….. Why the big dispute now?
“TPM has a poor record for environmental stewardship in Georgia and Florida, each state initiating legal action against the company during the past six years. While processing tailings at two of the four Chemours titanium mines on Trail Ridge in north Florida, TPM spilled wastewater during Hurricane Irma. Because of that and other infractions, TPM is still under a Florida Consent Order.” Mr. Barn, are you saying these statements are not accurate? If not, it does not appear they have been “safely” mining.
Many of Florida’s springs and inland sources of fresh water are under attack, The SJRWMD, SWFWMD, and other organizations to “manage” water are stacked with political appointees many of whom know nothing about conserving the resources and more interested in phosphate and other mining that will leave radioactive gypsum stacks leaching into the ground and waters that remain. Change my mind.