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Company says it can safely mine near Okefenokee wildlife refuge
Claims it would use environmentally friendly techniques to avoid polluting water, soil
Visitors canoe along a canal in the Okefenokee Swamp near Fargo, Ga. - photo by EDDIE LEDBETTER/staff

ST. GEORGE — The president of an Alabama company says he's confident that his firm can mine land just east of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge without polluting the water or soil, despite concerns expressed by a federal agency.

Twin Pines Minerals President Steve Ingle made the comments at a recent community meeting in St. George, The Savannah Morning News reported.

Several protesters who attended the meeting in St. George noted that the DuPont Co. abandoned a similar proposal in the late 1990s after government and public outcry against it.

"There's no such thing as good mining around here," said Robert Hattaway, a Georgia Botanical Society member who drove down from Pembroke to attend the meeting.

But Ingle says the company will use environmentally friendly techniques that won't pose any harm.

"We've done detailed studies to acquire scientifically correct methods to show no effects on the refuge or the (Floridan) aquifer," Ingle said.

Company consultant Robert Holt, a hydrogeologist at the University of Mississippi, said data collection from 500 small-diameter wells the company drilled indicate that a shallow aquifer just beneath the ridge keeps the Okefenokee's water in place, the Savannah newspaper reported. A naturally occurring layer of clay well beneath the mining depth should protect the Floridan aquifer, he said.

However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote in February that it's concerned the proposed mine would pose "substantial risks" to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The company wants to mine titanium dioxide less than 4 miles from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It's the largest federal refuge east of the Mississippi River, covering nearly 630 square miles near the Georgia-Florida state line.

"We have concerns that the proposed project poses substantial risks for significant affect to the environment," the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote in a five-page response to the Army Corps dated Feb. 20. "Should impacts occur they may not be able to be reversed, repaired, or mitigated for."

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