Opponents of titanium mine near Okefenokee focus on mining company qualifications

ATLANTA — Opponents of a proposal to mine titanium near the Okefenokee Swamp have long focused their fire on the environmental degradation it would wreak on North America’s largest blackwater marsh.

Now they’re also building a case against the mine based on what they say is Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals (TPM)’s alarming lack of qualifications to carry out the plan.

“The overwhelming scientific consensus that TPM’s project will damage the Okefenokee should be enough to convince [the Georgia Environmental Protection Division] to deny the permit application for this dangerous plan,” said Josh Marks, an environmental attorney who led a successful battle against a mine DuPont sought to open near the swamp in the 1990s and has spearheaded opposition to the Twin Pines -plan.

“But if you add to that that TPM has no experience whatsoever in building titanium sand mines… the question arises why Governor [Brian] Kemp and EPD continue to entertain this farce.”

“The company and its leaders have a long track record of non-compliance and environmental damage,” added Bill Sapp, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center and president of the Okefenokee Protection Alliance. “Twin Pines has failed time and time again over the past four years to prove that its proposed mining operations will not harm the Okefenokee Swamp, and we don’t believe the company ever will.”

Twin Pines Minerals is seeking state permits to mine titanium oxide along Trail Ridge near the swamp. The proposal generated more than 100,000 opposition comments during a recent 60-day public comment period.

Opponents have introduced bipartisan bills in each of the last two sessions of the General Assembly to ban open-pit mining along Trail Ridge, but both failed to reach the floor of either legislative chamber. This year’s legislation attracted 94 of the 180 members of the House of Representatives as co-sponsors.

The mine’s critics say it would lower water levels in the Okefenokee, causing devastating effects from bog pollution to peat exposure, making the area more susceptible to wildfires.

Environmental impacts aside, opponents of the project are now citing Twin Pines’ lack of mining experience, which they say is limited to coal.

They also claim joint ownership and control of Twin Pines with Georgia Renewable Power LLC, another Alabama company that drew the attention of the General Assembly several years ago for burning creosote-treated railroad ties at two biomass power plants in Northeast Georgia. Creosote has been linked to respiratory problems and some cancers.

The legislature passed a bill in 2020 banning the practice, and Georgia Renewable Power faces a vexing lawsuit brought by 30 families from Madison and Franklin counties.

Twin Pines president Steve Ingle declined to comment on allegations surrounding his company’s ties to Georgia Renewable Power. But he defended his qualifications to mine titanium.

“I am a registered professional mining engineer with over 40 years of experience mining a very wide range of minerals, including titanium,” Ingle wrote in an email to Capitol Beat. “Our senior management team has over 200 years of experience. We have been in the titanium market since 2015.”

While the mine’s legislative critics are expected to push ahead with their bill to ban titanium mining next year, they face an opponent who wields significant influence under the Gold Dome. Ingle contributed $18,750 to the campaigns of Republican state legislators and GOP Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones last year, while Twin Pines donated $5,750, according to OpenSecrets, the campaign finance watchdog website.

The company also employs a large number of experienced, respected lobbyists.

Meanwhile, the EPD continues to review a draft Twin Pines mining plan submitted in January. If the state agency signs on to the plan, it would trigger a second public comment period before the project can go ahead.

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