Q&A from February 1, 2021 story on Vice News
On February 1, 2021, Vice News aired a story about our proposed mining project in Charlton County, Ga. The story included some information from responses we offered to their questions, however, there are significant details that were not included which provide important perspective.
Below are the complete responses so that you may know “the rest of the story.”
How did Twin Pines decide to mine in Charlton County? Had you considered the site in past years?
Trail Ridge has long been known as a rich source of heavy minerals such as Titanium and Zirconium. We chose the site because it is situated in an area that was a sufficient distance from the Okefenokee and at a significantly higher elevation. We initiated the permitting process in 2018 and had not considered the Charlton County site previously.
The initial proposal was for a much larger piece of land than the current one. Walk us through the thinking behind those changes.
We scaled back the operational footprint significantly to 577.4 acres for the purpose of conducting a demonstration mining-to-reclamation project to prove conclusively that our plans are sound and fully protective of the Okefenokee Swamp and surrounding environs.
What products would be created with the minerals mined at this site?
The minerals to be extracted are used in a wide variety of products including aircraft, automobiles, surgical implements, prosthetics, high-technology products, and hundreds of other business, consumer and military goods. It is important to note, the nation lacks capacity to produce titanium and other minerals in sufficient quantities to meet demand such that the federal government has declared them “essential to the economic and national security of the United States.”
How many jobs for locals would be created if the mine got the final go-ahead?
Up to 400.
How would the mine in Charlton County affect the nearby Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys and Suwanee rivers?
There is no risk to water levels in the Okefenokee or surrounding waterways. Our geologic and hydrogeologic modeling confirms this point and was validated in an April 2020 EPA communication with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Our footprint is more than 2.9 miles away from the border of the refuge and the swamp itself is even further away. The property where mining will occur is at elevations higher than the swamp. At our maximum excavation depth of 50 feet, the bottom of the mining pit will still be above the Okefenokee.
How did the change in federal environmental regulations this past year affect Twin Pines’ mine proposal?
It did not change our intent to mine, but it did eliminate the requirement of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit because the area in which we propose to conduct operations contains no jurisdictional wetlands.
Has Twin Pines itself, or its leaders, ever violated local, state or federal environmental regulations at any of its other mine sites or projects?
Few reporters understand the day-to-day regulatory process. If they did, they might ask this question instead: “Have you ever been fined for, and/or found guilty of, willfully violating any local, state or federal environmental regulations? The answer is an emphatic “No.” Below we explain what’s behind this information.
The regulatory process often includes frequent inspections, and notices of violation can be given for a host of perceived infractions from minor to more severe situations. It would be difficult if not impossible to find a company in regulated industries such as mining, waste management, manufacturing, construction, etc. that doesn’t get notices of violation. It could involve interpretation of a rule or a reading that is slightly off from a standard. Sometimes the company is at fault, sometimes they are not, and violations are rescinded.
In the regulatory process, there are always going to be elements of operational compliance that operators and regulators may view differently. The checks and balances, part of which are the notices of violation, provide the vehicle through which they get on the same page.
If so, how would you make the case that this mine would be done differently and responsibly?
The demonstration project will be thoroughly evaluated to prove that heavy minerals can be mined on the site in a way that is safe and environmentally sound. No one goes into a project of this magnitude with more skepticism than the people who put up the money. They must ensure compliance with all local, state and federal regulations to protect their investment. Thus, investors are concerned, as much or more than anyone, that they can go from A to Z and do it correctly. From our perspective, if we were not 100% convinced of our ability to mine in ways that meet the strictest standards for environmental protection, then we would not put such a huge investment (up to $300 million) on the line.
What about the technology at this site would ensure the swamp’s hydrology wouldn’t be affected?
Surface mining will be done via a dragline excavator. A conveyor system will transport materials to an onsite processing plant and simultaneously return soils to the pit for backfilling. This process is an environmentally responsible approach versus old school “wet mining,” which is much more invasive. As noted above, this will be conducted 2.9 miles from the edge of the refuge, even further away from the swamp itself and at a significantly higher elevation.
Some of your critics and even supporters are advocating for Twin Pines to do an environmental impact statement. If you say you don’t want to cordon this project off from the public, why not do one?
Calls for an environmental impact statement at this time show how few people understand the process. An EIS is directed at the federal level. Since there are not jurisdictional wetlands on the property, there is not a federal agency that would administer the EIS process. Beyond that fact, it is important to know the great extent to which experts have studied the area and what’s contained in their studies. We have compiled and submitted volumes of information to regulatory agencies about our plans, processes and the extensive environmental, geologic and hydrogeologic studies. It is all a matter of public record. Combined with results from a demonstration project, we have surpassed what is required within the average EIS.
We have gone well beyond the norm for two reasons; to assure the public, regulators and elected officials of the project’s viability, and to protect our investment.
Your critics point out that DuPont tried mining in the same area in the 90s and were prohibited by public pressure and even Secretary of Interior at the time. What makes this time different, have the risks to the swamp changed? Is the type of mine you’re proposing vastly different?
We’re not proposing to mine the same land. DuPont’s property was closer to the swamp and larger in acreage. In addition, our dragline technology is significantly better than the best mining methods used when DuPont proposed their project more than two decades ago.
How do you think the change in federal administration will affect Twin Pines’ proposal? Is it affecting your timeline at all?
If the regulatory process is free of political prejudice, we expect to move forward with our proposal as planned and to start the demonstration mining-to-reclamation project as soon as we are granted permits to do so.