Okefenokee Mine Plan Condemned Regulators Rip Titanium Project

By LoMonte, Frank | The Florida Times Union, April 24, 1997 | Go to article overview

Okefenokee Mine Plan Condemned Regulators Rip Titanium Project


LoMonte, Frank, The Florida Times Union


ATLANTA -- A now-delayed plan to mine titanium ore on a 30-mile

strip of land along the edge of the Okefenokee National Wildlife

Refuge was condemned yesterday by Georgia's chief environmental

regulators.

In a resolution approved unanimously, the 16-member State Board

of Natural Resources joined a chorus of environmental critics

warning that the mining operation could cause "irreparable,

long-term damage" to the Southeast Georgia swamp.

"The board has taken the strongest stand we can take," said

chairman Joe Beverly of Thomasville.

DuPont, the Wilmington, Del., industrial giant, has several

plants that process the titanium ore into titanium dioxide, a

white pigment used to make paper, paint and other products. The

company's original plan was to seek federal and state

environmental permits to begin mining in 2002. The mining would

last about 50 years.

But faced with growing criticism, DuPont put the project on

hold earlier this month, promising to seek input from

independent experts. The mediator has yet to be chosen and no

timetable for the talks has been set.

The Okefenokee is a nationally protected wetland covering

438,000 acres in Southeast Georgia and North Florida. Its

picturesque waterways are lined with cypress trees dripping with

Spanish moss, and it is home to alligators, black bears and many

endangered birds and reptiles.

The resolution cited "great concern and anxiety in the minds of

citizens . . . who fear that the proposed mining would do

irreparable damage to this beloved and significant natural

feature."

However, the DNR board stopped short of saying the project

should be abandoned, instead urging the federal government to

conduct thorough environmental impact studies before DuPont is

allowed to break ground.

The board's action is the latest note of discord in DuPont's

plans. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is on record opposing

the mine, and Gov. Zell Miller also has questioned the project's

safety.

Delaware-based DuPont was seeking federal permits to use half

of a 38,000-acre tract next to the preserve to mine sand

containing titanium, a raw material used to make white pigment

for paper, paint and other products. The rest of the tract would

remain unused as a buffer.

Company officials announced April 12 that they would seek an

outside scientific review before proceeding further. The move

quieted some environmental critics, but left others questioning

how the study could be impartial.

DuPont's project coordinator, Rosemary Cumba, called the DNR

resolution "a very fair and responsible position for the board

to take" and told the board the company will proceed to seek

permits for the project only if it is convinced the mining would

do no harm to the Okefenokee. …

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