The agency’s ruling gives a big setback in terms of Okefenokee mining

SAVANNA, GEORGIA (AP) – The Federal Agency on Friday gave a big setback to a controversial plan by a mining company near the edge of the Okefenoki Swamp and its huge shelter.

A government note states that the Army Corps of Engineers reaffirms its jurisdiction over Twin Pines Minerals’ mining proposal near Okefenoki, home to the largest U.S. wildlife refuge east of the Mississippi River.

Scientists warn that prey near the skull’s marginal edge could damage its ability to hold water. They called on the Army Corps of Engineers to refuse to issue a permit for the project. But in 2020, the agency announced it no longer had those powers after a rollback of regulations under then-President Donald Trump narrowed the types of waterways that are protected under the Clean Water Act.

Trump’s kickbacks were later overturned by federal courts. President Joe Biden’s administration has sought to restore federal control over development projects that under Trump were allowed to circumvent regulations to prevent pollution of streams or drainage of wetlands.

Michael Connor, the Army’s assistant minister for civilian affairs, said in a note Friday that previous decisions by the Army Corps to relinquish jurisdiction over a plan to mine in Georgia and another proposed mine outside Tucson, Arizona, had been overturned.

Connor wrote that both projects would have to start first with new applications for federal permits. He said previous decisions that allowed them to bypass federal regulators “did not work” because no consultations had been held with tribal governments that have tribal ties to the proposed mining sites.

The Twin Pines project in Georgia will require consultation with the Muscovy-Creek nation before it can move forward, the note said.

“From the day we announced our plans, we said we would follow the rules at all times,” said Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines. He added: “We intend to move forward with our application and comply with all requirements.”

U.S. Sen. John Osaf, a Democrat from Georgia who has fought the proposed mine outside Okefenoki since taking office last year, called the decision a great victory.

“I am pleased to announce the resumption of protection of this shelter and the surrounding wetlands,” Osaf said in a statement on Friday. “Okefenoki is a wonder of nature and one of the most valuable lands of Georgia. I will continue to fight to protect it for future generations. “

The Alabama-based Twin Pines is awaiting permission from Georgia’s Environment Department, the sole regulator overseeing the project pending a federal government decision Friday that restores the Army Corps’ regulatory powers over 556 acres (225 hectares) of wetlands proposed. mining.

Okefenoki National Wildlife Refuge covers nearly 630 square miles (1,630 square kilometers) in southeastern Georgia and is home to alligators, bald eagles and other protected species. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the shelter, wildlife swamps, cypress forests and flooded prairies attract about 600,000 visitors each year.

Two decades ago, chemical giant DuPont abandoned plans to mine outside Okefenoki after meeting fierce resistance. Twin Pines wants to get permits to extract a small fraction of the area DuPont is looking for. Ingle insisted that his company could extract the plot without damaging the swamp.

Government scholars have been skeptical. In February 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote that the proposed mine could pose a “significant hazard” to the swamp, including its ability to hold water. Some of the impacts, it says, “may not be undone, repaired or mitigated.”

Environmental groups welcomed the federal government’s decision.

“Mining on the threshold of a rare environmental treasure, such as the Okefenoki swamp in Georgia, challenges common sense,” said Kelly Moser, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which specializes in clean water. “And we are thrilled that this announcement removes the threat to hundreds of hectares of critical wetlands.”

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