St. Marys Riverkeeper brings Okefenokee mining debate to Nassau County Commissioners

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'From swamp to sea, the St. Marys River is pristine.'

The state of the St. Marys River is in question, Nassau County Commissioners learned, depending on the outcome of a debate on a mine near the Okefenokee Swamp, from which the river rises.

“The St. Marys River and its headwaters — the Okefenokee Swamp — are in danger from a risky mining operation along Trail Ridge in St. George, Georgia,” St. Marys Riverkeeper Emily Floore said to the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners this week. “The Georgia state permits are currently open to the public (for comment).”

The possibility of a mine spawned a controversy that has now lingered for years as the company seeking the mine pushes forward.

“Riverkeeper is concerned that the proposed mine, as presented to Georgia Environmental Protection Division, will negatively impact the St. Marys River watershed ecosystem,” Floore said. 

The organization lodged comments regarding what they consider is the significant risk of failure of the mine, the use of a number of experimental techniques not previously used for mining, and general public confusion about information presented on the project. 

The company, Twin Pines Minerals, is seeking to mine 582 acres to extract titanium and zirconium. Twin Pines maintains crews would “at any given time excavate in a very small section of the property — 1.5 to 2.5 acres — to a maximum depth of 50 feet, advancing 100 feet per day.”

Presently, the St. Marys is unique in its lack of development. 

“From swamp to sea, the St. Marys River is pristine,” Floore said. “Land along the St. Marys is almost entirely private-owned, by timber plantations, conservation districts and private citizens. In 2022, Georgia (Department of Natural Resources) declared two segments of the St. Marys River safe for recreational use. Deep Creek to Boone Creek, and Prospect Landing (Road) to Little St. Marys (River). 

“This upgrade means that EPD, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, is committed to protecting these levels for recreation with higher levels of acceptable water quality.” 

In addition to other issues with the site, the mine wouldn’t have to abide by certain wetlands laws for four years, she said.

“All the wetlands lost their federal jurisdiction back in 2020, when the Trump administration rolled back the Waters of the United States (rule),” Floore said. “So, they are just going to bulldoze through all the wetlands on the mine site.”

Several people talked with Commissioner Alyson McCullough about their concerns regarding mining near the swamp.

“The St. Marys River is in my backyard, but it’s in all of our backyards, because it doesn’t only affect just my district, it affects every one of our districts as it goes to the ocean,” McCullough said.

The potential impacts of mining striking close to home was why she invited Floore to speak to the Commissioners.

“No one in Florida really seems to have an idea of what’s happening,” Floore responded to a question by Commissioner John Martin, “which is why I’m here to start getting the St. Marys River into the conversation, because it does impact Florida’s waterways.”

Commissioner Jeff Gray expressed he was OK with the mine going ahead, however, and that as Floridians not necessarily get involved what’s been a largely Georgia concern.

“I’m sure Charlton County’s going to have a lot of jobs that will be created from this, if this ever comes to fruition,” Gray said. “I just want to keep us in our lanes if we can.”

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe


One comment

  • Rose Rowland

    March 17, 2023 at 8:46 am

    There have been some interesting articles in the Tribune Georgian on this topic.

Comments are closed.


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