This article reveals more trickery and rule-breaking by Twin Pines Minerals, already mining in Florida next to Chemours. At that site they were were issued many violations by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. So these latest violations are nothing new to this company which should not be mining anywhere. During a 2019 public meeting in Folkston, GA, several of their representatives were not prepared to explain their mining plans, and either could not answer questions or gave wrong information in their answers.
Read the entire article here in the Times Union.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Sept. 21, 2020
You can’t mine on land without the owner’s permission.
This basic property right appears to be a stumbling block for Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals, which has proposed plans to mine for titanium and zircon on 898 acres in Charlton County near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Earlier this year the nonprofit American Rivers named the Okefenokee Swamp and the nearby St. Marys River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers for 2020, citing the threat mining would pose to the waterways’ clean water, wetlands and wildlife habitat.
On Tuesday the owner of about a quarter of that property, financial services company TIAA, wrote to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, requesting the withdrawal or amendment of Twin Pines’ permit application.
“Please note that the Mining Application is in error to the extent that it represents that Twin Pines has secured rights to conduct mining operations upon any portion of TIAA Timberlands’ property,” wrote Jeff Nuss, president and CEO of GreenWood Resources, Inc. as manager for TIAA Timberlands I, LLC.
“To date, this request has been ignored by Twin Pines; consequently, we are formally notifying you on behalf of TIAA Timberlands of such material inaccuracies and asking your assistance with respect to the removal of any and all references to TIAA Timberlands or TIAA Timberlands Property from the Mining Application,” Nuss wrote.
“Because the evidence appears to show that TPM perpetrated a fraud against the Corps and the public for a year, referral to the U.S. Attorney for investigation and prosecution is a distinct possibility, and would send a strong message to other operators that the public permitting process must be respected and not abused,” Marks wrote in an email.
Twin Pines’ response
Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines Minerals, denied that the application contained a “material inaccuracy” regarding the ownership of the TIAA tract.
“The application to the Corps of Engineers clearly states that the TIAA tract is owned by TIAA,” he said in a prepared statement. “We had included it in the application in anticipation of obtaining mining rights after a permit from the Corps is granted. Nevertheless, at the request of TIAA we are removing their tract of land from the permit application.”
While the application shows TIAA’s ownership in one section, in another it indicates Twin Pines is the owner. And ownership isn’t the only issue. The application states “Applicant must be property owner or lessee or have authority to perform the activity requested.” Ingle signed indicating he did. TIAA says it never granted that authority.
Nevertheless, in a wetlands report filed in 2019 as an appendix to the initial application, Ingle certified, apparently incorrectly, that Twin Pines is the owner of the TIAA tract and has the required property rights to request the wetlands delineation.
A representative of Alabama-based Oakworth Capital Bank, which public records in Charlton County show is backing the project with about $19 million in loans, could not be reached for comment.
TIAA Timberlands did have one annual license with Twin Pines, effective April 8, 2020, that allowed ground water monitoring on the tract. But a TIAA spokesperson indicated Thursday it would be terminating that agreement because of the “improper use of the TIAA Timberlands name in Twin Pines’ mining applications and continued inaccuracies with respect to the company’s rights to access TIAA Timberlands property.”
State mining permit
The permit application with the Corps was not the only one where Twin Pines claimed control of the TIAA property. Ingle claimed to be leasing the tract in an application with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for a surface mining permit. He signed a notarized statement on the permit application and checked a box indicating he was “leasing” the TIAA property in 2019.
Ingle filed for a new permit this year, again indicating his company leased the TIAA property. It did not. He amended that application in July.
“Twin Pines recognized the initial Surface Mining permit application was not correct in this respect, and it was corrected in July, 2020,” a company spokesman wrote in an email Thursday.
On the new application, neither “owned” nor “leased” is selected to describe Twin Pines’ relationship to the TIAA property.
“We have notified Twin Pines that their application is incomplete,” EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers wrote in an email. “Both boxes were left blank because they are in negotiations with the timber company.”
On Thursday a TIAA company spokeswoman confirmed that “TIAA is not and has never been in negotiations with Twin Pines regarding the lease or purchase of TIAA Timberlands property.”
U.S. Army Corps spokesman Russell Wicke said his agency had not yet formulated a response to TIAA’s letter.
“We just got the letter, so our regulatory officials have not had a chance to discuss internally if we need to respond or perform any follow-on action – or not,” Wicke wrote in an email on Thursday.
But several Corps employees including Project Manager Holly Ross knew of TIAA’s concerns for at least two months, an intra-agency email revealed.
“The representatives for the owners of the TIAA tract called the applicant yesterday and want their land removed from the Twin Pines project,” Ross wrote to the Corps’ William Rutlin and Jason O’Kane on July 8.
Marks, who is working as a pro-bono consultant to a consortium of conservation groups opposed to the mining, wants regulators at EPD and the Corps to do better.
“It’s outrageous that neither agency bothered to verify TPM’s statements as the agencies are required to do, especially given the importance of the Okefenokee as a world class resource and the overwhelming expression of opposition to the project from the public,” Marks wrote in an email. “And then to find out the corps was notified on July 8th, failed to confront TPM about it, and also failed to notify the public makes you wonder if the Corps is representing the interest of the public or of TPM. If TIAA hadn’t brought it to the Corps’ attention they apparently wouldn’t have done anything and would have continued wasting the public’s time and money; that’s simply unacceptable. The public should not have to do the agencies’ jobs.”
How we got here
At 400,000 acres, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which occupies a large portion of the swamp, is about the size of Chatham County, making it the largest refuge in the eastern U.S. A proposed United Nations World Heritage Site, the Okefenokee is beloved for its watery canoe trails, its wild interior where black bears and alligators roam, and its dark skies, unblighted by city lights. The Okefenokee Swamp is one of the world’s largest intact freshwater ecosystems….
“I’ve never encountered a company of any kind that has the audacity to include land that it has no rights to within a permit application within statements made to the federal government,” said Christian Hunt, Southeast program representative for the Defenders of Wildlife, part of the consortium called the Okefenokee Protection Alliance. “But with Twin Pines, you know, this isn’t exactly surprising. Unfortunately, they’ve displayed a long history of noncompliance, plain disregard for environmental protections. And frankly, making false statements to the federal government shows just how far this company will go to get what it wants.”
Alex Kearns, chair of the St. Marys EarthKeepers, also a member of the Okefenokee Protection Alliance, said she was shocked but not surprised at the latest revelations. She called for a permit denial or at least a more comprehensive study called an Environmental Impact Statement.
“From the initial application onward, their proposed project has been rife with questionable “science” and ever-changing details,” she texted.