St. Marys Mine Hearing Available Via Zoom

By Paula Alford

The quality of life for all of us living near the St. Marys River may be at risk if titanium oxide mining operations at the river’s headwaters near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge commence.

St. Marys River flows into and out of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR) and along the cities of St. Marys, Georgia, and Yulee, Fernandina Beach, Florida into the Atlantic Ocean. The Okefenokee Swamp also flows into the Suwannee River to the Gulf of Mexico.

Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) issued draft surface mining, ground water, and air quality permits to Alabama based Twin Pines Mineral, LLC (TPM) in February 2024 to build a titanium oxide mine to extract titanium, staurolite, and zirconium at Trail Ridge, three miles from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR) and the headwaters of the St. Marys River. Under pressure from many, notably the St. Marys Riverkeeper, the public comment period is extended until April 9 with a virtual public hearing being held today.

To operate the mine, water from the Florida aquifer is collected in ponds, evaporated, mined for the minerals, and then the land is restored and trees planted. Twin Pines Minerals says it plans to mine to a maximum depth of 50 feet so it should not impact the ONWR’s or St. Marys water levels. Georgia’s EPD tested and evaluated the company’s models using more conservative parameters. They confirmed the company’s analysis; draft permits were issued.

The draft groundwater permit, however, allows TPM to withdraw up to 1.440 million gallons of water per day, or 783 gallons per minute to operate the mine. Emily Floore, Executive Director of St. Marys Riverkeeper says, “If you keep pumping that much water out, how will it not have an environmental impact on water levels and all that live along the river and depend on it?” Water withdrawal at extreme rates and mining practices could impact saltwater intrusion, wells, sturgeon spawning, and water quality from contaminants.

Further, a permit was granted to a demonstration mine that sits on 582 acres. Opponents assert the company owns more private land and the mine could eventually encompass 8,000 acres. Opponents also cite a lack of mitigation plans from mining impacts, surficial aquifer issues, incompatibility with surface mining rules, and forestry land uses.

To date the Georgia EPD has received roughly 80,000 written comments and 200 oral comments in opposition to the proposed permit. The virtual hearing today may well reach the limit of 1,000 attendees. Register for the hearing here. It will start at 6 p.m.

For Fernandina residents, the potential impact on the St. Marys River and its ecosystem and wildlife could be critical.

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Alex Wood
Active Member
Alex Wood(@alex-wood)
1 month ago

Thanks for the notice. If provisional permits were issued based on minimal models, What happens when models exceed maximum impacts? This is bad news for everyone. Even Mine restoration leaves a horrible footprint. I’ll be logged on. #stoptwinpines

1 month ago

The link took me to the historical record and documents but there didn’t seem to be a way to register for the Zoom meeting

Kathy Blacklock
Active Member
Kathy Blacklock(@blacklock)
1 month ago
Reply to  EllenA

The link to the Zoom meeting has been corrected. Thanks for pointing this out. ~Editors

Kimberly Lewis
Kimberly Lewis(@lewiski)
1 month ago

Please remember that the public comment period on the draft permits is open until April 9. Thousands more signatures are needed. Email your comments to Georgia EPD at [email protected].