Could titanium dioxide mining impact the Okefenokee Swamp? Here’s what we’ve learned

ATLANTA — The Okefenokee Swamp is considered one of the most unique ecosystems in the world, but it could be threatened by a mine that a company wants to build less than three miles from the wildlife refuge.

Channel 2′s Bryan Mims was able to boat into and fly over the federally protected refuge. It is located in the southeast corner of the state and sits on the Florida line.

Earlier this month, state regulators in Atlanta issued draft permits for the project bringing the proposed titanium mine one step closer to reality.

it’s one of those places where you can’t fathom the magnitude of, and once you’re here, you can just feel the magic,” said Alice Keyes, with the environmental advocacy group 100 Miles.


“It’s necessary that we keep this place in the pristine state that it’s in because man had nothing to do in creating this place,” pastor Antwon Nixon told Mims.

Nixon and Deborah Reed grew up in the shadow of the swamp.

“You just don’t find it anywhere else, so why should you want to endanger it?” Reed said.

They say the Okefenokee should be revered like our most iconic national treasures.

But along the eastern rim of the swamp runs a line of ancient sand dunes called Trail Ridge. It’s where, eons ago, the ocean washed ashore. The sand is rich in minerals -- notably titanium dioxide.

An Alabama-based company called Twin Pines Minerals, LLC wants to dig it out so the titanium dioxide can be used as a whitening agent for things like sunscreen, toothpaste and paint.

“So, they’re basically going to dig a big hole. The hole at the bottom is going to be 500 feet long, 100 feet wide and 50 feet deep,” University of Georgia hydrology professor Rhett Jackson said.


The mine would pump more than a million gallons of groundwater every day -- water that would have flowed into the swamp.

“You essentially triple the frequency of severe drought in the southeastern portion of the swamp and that’s the reason the Twin Pines Mine is a bad idea,” Jackson said.

Twin Pines Minerals declined an interview with Mims and referred him to a video on its website. It said given the elevation of the mine, the swamp and the river, the Okefenokee would be safe.

Twin Pines president Steve Ingle sent Channel 2 Action News a statement, saying:

“Twin Pines has spent tens of millions of dollars to prove their mining process will not harm the Okefenokee or surrounding environs. The draft permits are validation that the science has been accepted by EPD.”

Mims ended up boarding a plane with Emily Floore, The Saint Marys Riverkeeper to see just how vast the swamp – from 1,200 feet in the air.

“They have slowly been adding and buying up property along Trail Ridge, moving north from the demonstration mine,” Floore said.

Twin Pines now owns about 8,000 acres on Trail Ridge, which serves as a natural barrier protecting the swamp’s unspoiled water – and it’s not just the swamp. The Saint Marys River flows 130 miles out of the Okefenokee, into the Atlantic Ocean.

Environmentalists fear the mine would harm the river basin. Harm it with lower water levels, which they fear could be disastrous for fish, namely the American sturgeon.

Something Twin Pines told Mims in their statement would not happen.

The scientists who publicly oppose the project have had four-plus years to present credible science to back their claims and never did.

They and others do, however, manufacture a lot of misinformation and continue to create drama.

“Truthfully, we don’t know what mining is going to do to the overall standard of this place,” Nixon said.

Nixon and Reid said any mining is not worth the risk.

“There’s just as much magic, knowledge, education, creation out here as there is anywhere,” Reid said.

“You wouldn’t do that at the Grand Canyon. You wouldn’t do it at Yellowstone. And in my eyes, this place is the same,” Nixon said.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has the ultimate say whether the mine is built. The agency will review public comments and make a recommendation to the EPD director to approve or deny the permits.

There are actually a couple of proposed bills currently moving through the General Assembly that would put a moratorium on certain mining applications.

House Bill 71, better known as the Okefenokee Protection Act, was introduced in 2023 by state Rep. Darlene Taylor.

The bill aims to stop any future mining permits along Trail Ridge. With more than 90 sponsors it failed to make it out of committee.

“House Bill 71, the Okefenokee Protection Act, is the best way to go. And that, you know, prohibiting future mining permits along Trail Ridge, right next to the Okefenokee. We’re not talking about Trail Ridge up in, you know, there at its 120 miles, we’re just talking about right next to the Okefenokee,” Keyes said.

Late last week, state Rep. John Corbett introduced House Bill 1338, which would put a three-year moratorium on dragline mining, the type of mining done by Twin Pines.

“The moratorium will allow for the data to be collected over the next three years,” Corbett said.

Opponents of the bill say it includes unrealistic deadlines to challenge permits.

“That’s just really unreasonable when we’re talking about really, intense permitting decisions that need to be made that rely on a lot of scientific data, for example,” April Lipscomb, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center said.

Dr. Ari Gordin, an attorney with the Jones Fortuna law firm which represents Twin Pines, also expressed concern.

“Twin Pines is going the extra mile to ensure that its operations will not affect the experience of visitors to the swamp,” Gordin said. “The company believes the three-year moratorium is unnecessary. That said, Twin Pines recognizes the significance of the swamp, and it understands the sensitivities raised by the proposed operations.”

Corbett’s proposal comes a few days before Crossover Day when a bill needs to clear at least one chamber to have a direct path to the governor’s desk.


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