Charlton County Commission votes to support mining near the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge

Charlton County Commission votes to support mining near the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge

The Charlton County Commission Thursday evening unanimously voted to support the proposal to mine for heavy minerals near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Charlton County Commissioners voted to support mining near the Okefenokee.

The proclamation cited economic benefits to the county, including tax revenue and the 150 jobs promised in the permit application from Twin Pines Minerals.

It did note the project is still subject to approval by "any other authority having jurisdiction." That includes the Army Corps of Engineers.

Related: Mining Proposal Near Okefenokee Promises Jobs, Raises Environmental Concerns

Many have raised concerns about the mining proposal and its possible effect on the Okefenokee. The chief issue is the hydrology: what the mine would do to water underground.

Twin Pines officials have said the effect would be minimal. The company has promised scientific modeling to back up that claim. That work is still underway.

Several environmental advocates have said they want to see the detailed report to determine its impact. 

In a letter sent before the county commission meeting, Suwanee Riverkeeper John Quarterman called the commission's vote "premature."

"While I understand that everyone wants jobs, I respectfully submit that far too many things are still unknown," Quarterman wrote. 

Related: 150 Attend Information Session On Mining Near Okefenokee

Public comments at the meeting, following the vote, echoed that sentiment.

Only residents of Charlton County were allowed to speak, while others could submit comments on notecards. County officials said that was because of the large number of people present, in the interest of time and to gauge how many in attendance were county residents. All the seats in the commission meeting room were full, with several people standing in the back.

Resident Teresa Crawford grew emotional during her comments, comparing the possible economic benefits of the mine to those of the existing wildlife refuge.

"The economic impact of the Okefenokee swamp — we have a jewel out there," she said, noting that people from other states and other countries visit the refuge. "If it gets destroyed, that economic impact is gone."

Chief Redhawk of the Cherokee of Georgia and his assistant, Jane Winkler, also spoke. They questioned how many of the promised jobs would be local and reiterated the concern that mining could harm the swamp.

After the meeting, Commissioner Drew Jones said he would not support a project that would devastate the Okefenokee. But he said Twin Pines has plans for environmental protections — and Charlton County needs well-paying jobs.

"In this community, we've got a prison, we've got a landfill, as far as employers," Jones said. "The Board of Education employs 200, ballpark pay $18 an hour. So these mines, they can improve quality of life."

The Corps is accepting public comment through Sept. 12.