Interior Secretary Deb Haaland

ATLANTA – The Biden administration is expressing concern about a proposed titanium mine near the Okefenokee Swamp.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is urging the state not to approve permits being sought by Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals (TPM) to mine a 1,042-acre site in Charlton County near the southeastern edge of the largest black water swamp in North America.

“The department has a profound interest in protecting the health and integrity of the swamp ecosystem,” Haaland wrote late last month in a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp. “It is a unique wetland ecosystem unlike any other found in North America and is one of the world’s most hydrologically intact freshwater ecosystems.”

Haaland, who visited the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in September, also noted the Okefenokee is part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s ancestral homeland and, thus, has cultural value that could be affected by a mine. Haaland is the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary.

The refuge is the 16th most visited in the nation, with more than 400,000 visitors per year, she wrote.

Josh Marks, a lawyer and longtime advocate for protecting the swamp, said Haaland is the second interior secretary who has spoken out against mining near the Okefenokee.

“[Secretary Bruce] Babbitt did the same thing 25 years ago in opposing DuPont’s Okefenokee proposal,” Marks said.  “Hopefully, Governor Kemp will listen to her, just as Governor Zell Miller listened to Secretary Babbitt, and say no to TPM.”

The project’s opponents filed a lawsuit last month challenging a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to turn jurisdiction over permits for the mine to the state.

The Corps had suspended the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s (EPD) review of the proposed mine last June. But the agency later agreed in an out-of-court settlement with Twin Pines to step aside and let the EPD resume its consideration of the permits.

Twin Pines officials say the mine does not threaten the environment, noting the proposed site for the project is three miles from the southeast corner of the Okefenokee at its closest point and 11 miles from the nearest canoe trail used by visitors.

The company also maintains the land will be restored to its original contours and native vegetation after mining activity is completed.

Kemp has not taken a position on the project.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.