By Sherian Berteau, 3-16-23
At their March 13 meeting, the Nassau County Board of Commissioners was told of concerns about the potential adverse environmental impact of a proposed new Georgia titanium ore mine at Trail Ridge near the St. Mary’s River and Okefenokee Swamp.
Emily Floore, Executive Director of St. Mary’s Riverkeeper, gave an informative presentation about the state of the river, and their concerns about a possible mining permit being granted by the state of Georgia which could negatively impact the river’s environmental habitats. She was invited to do so by Alyson R. McCullough, District 4 Commissioner. The St. Mary’s River is used by recreational boaters, hunters and fisherman in Florida as well, so she is trying to raise awareness here.
St. Mary’s Riverkeepers is an NGO dedicated to protecting the St Mary’s River system/estuaries (1600 sq miles and 130 miles long), via activism, education, research and more. It is affiliated with the much larger international Waterkeepers Alliance., which subscribes to the UN sustainability narrative.
Ms. Floore claimed that the Trail Ridge Twin Pine Mining, LLC mine applicant’s plan relies upon experimental, never-tested techniques, that the company lacks greenfield mining experience and has a negative record of environmental stewardship.
To hopefully not oversimplify it, the plan addresses the always difficult problem of disposing of processing wastewater, which they propose to do via many massive evaporators. This also eliminates the need for a discharge permit (although there may be solid wastes to contend with as well). She questions whether this will work and if it does, will it remove excessive water from the river system? They are currently talking about 1.44 million gallons daily, which is about a tenth of what a factory on Amelia Island is authorized to dump daily. Riverkeeper is also concerned that the drilling process may destabilize the water table.
Our understanding is that there would be a smaller scale pilot project first. It was unclear what hurdles that must surmount to proceed further and what checks and balances would be in place.
She blamed Trump for all of this because The Waters of the US rules were rolled back during his administration. Our understanding is that was to put the emphasis on the states, which were believed to be where the constitutional authority rests. In any case, they are already being restored, on steroids this time.
The applicant was not at the meeting to defend its position, so we included a link to their impact study in this report and will reach out to them for their comments. We also put a call into Commissioner McCullough and will let readers know what we learn from her.
Commissioners questioned the following (Q) and Ms. Floore answered (A):
1. Q-Who would approve this project? A- GA Environmental Protection Division. It does not fall under federal authority. Floore mentioned GA House Bill 71 – the Okeefenoke Protection act- saying it needs to include Trail Ridge, too and St Mary’s River.
2. Q- What about Florida approval? A- “No one in Florida seems to have an idea of what’s happening”. (Since Florida shares the St Mary’s River, it should legally have a say. Riverkeeper has been trying to raise awareness. See previous CJF article link below).
Ms. Floore informed us that about 50,000 public comments on the project had already been received and that the deadline is MONDAY.
See previous Citizens Journal Florida notice soliciting comments on this:
Here’s a relevant excerpt from that report, which mentions risk, but doesn’t mention any specifics or consequences:
Trail Ridge Twin Pine Mining, LLC is an Alabama based company seeking a permit to mine along Trail Ridge, at the headwaters of Boone Creek (a tributary of the St. Marys) and the River Styx, which flows into the Okefenokee Swamp. Mining along Trail Ridge could compromise either or both the river and the swamp. The Riverkeeper read permits, met with subject matter experts, monitored status changes, and engaged in conversations about the proposed Twin Pines Minerals sand mining operation in Charlton County.
Early in the Summer, the Army Corps of Engineers reversed their decision on whether the wetlands fall under federal jurisdiction and thus reassumed permitting authority of the project. However, in late summer, that responsibility was returned to GEPD. There were several responses, plans, and addenda published in the Fall, and the Biden Administration announced a significant change to Waters of The United States, which failed to change the permit status. No public comment was opened in 2022.
On September 16, Secretary Haaland from the Department of the Interior visited the Okefenokee Swamp and Riverkeeper was there to welcome her to the St. Marys River watershed. In December, Secretary Haaland wrote a letter to Governor Kemp stating that mining on Trail Ridge “poses an unacceptable risk” to the swamp. She joined thousands of citizens, as well as independent experts, in urging the State of Georgia to not move ahead with state permits for the proposed Twin Pines mine. The final decision on the permit is currently expected in 2023.
Mine applicant’s IMPACT STUDY
In scanning through the study, we see that it focuses almost wholly on the impact on the local hydrologic system and that is how the report is titled. The closed loop system is presented as the answer. Of course, it’s not truly closed loop if over a million gallons daily would be artificially evaporated. Potential leakage of contaminants, equipment failure and effect of pollutants on wildlife and humans aren’t addressed/envisioned. But it does state that even worst case scenarios would have minimal effect on the hydrologic system. But the study conclusions depend heavily upon mathematical models, some adapted from other areas of study and also dependent upon probabilities instead of all hard data. Hard data in the amount required to feed the model could be extremely expensive and time consuming to collect. We remain suspicious of models and probabilities in general, having seen them in action for sea rise, food supply, peak oil, the economy etc. It would be good to have an opposition expert vet the study if this has not already been done. We’re definitely not up to that at Citizens Journal Florida.
Ms. Jesse Armstrong spoke about her role in the Strategic Budget Planning for 2023, and her work as an advocate and volunteer for Nassau County Animal Control. She was highly complimentary of the people involved and the planning process. She went on to talk about the animal shelter, saying that there were 75 dogs and 48 cats there- and no other species, along with another 59 dogs and 45 cats in foster homes. She thanked the foster parents, staff and volunteers. After describing some nasty biting incidents at foster homes and the department’s quick responses, she asked for more pet foster parents.
The Board appointed Wynn Fendig as the District 2 At-Large Representative on the Planning and Zoning Board beginning March 13 and ending 12/31/2023.
They also approved resolutions for County Road 121 repairs. Agenda materials excerpt:
|Capital Improvement Project Management has received a Local Transportation Projects State Funded Grant Agreement from Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for repairs and resurfacing of CR 121 from CR 119 to US 1. FDOT is agreeing to a maximum participation amount of $9,000,000 for the project design, construction, and construction engineering inspection. The completion of the project is on or before 12/31/2026. This grant agreement is part of the total $18 million to be received for this project.|
Approved mowing contracts for Amelia Parkway as well. They approved and authorized staff to solicit applications for appointees for the American Beach Water and Sewer Advisory Board. Further discussion about American Beach’s Advisory Board was postponed until next meeting.
Board Chairman was approved and authorized to sign a Land Swap Agreement for Nassau County School Board for their William Burgess Extension and Nassauville School site.
The Board nominated Municipal Representatives for the Northeast Florida Regional Council – FB Commissioner David Sturges for Fernandina Beach; Ashton Bishop-Vargas for Callahan; and Dallas Hunter for Hilliard. Commissioner Alyson McCullough was the only objector, pointing out a historical bias toward appointing Fernandina Beach residents.
An amendment to the FLUM ( Future Land Use Map) is being continued and re–advertised for March. 27 meeting.
The Nassau County Board of Commissioners met at the Commission Chambers in the James Page Municipal Complex on Monday, March 13 at 6:00 pm. Commissioners John F. Martin, District 1;A.M. “Hupp” Huppman, District 2, Jeff Gray, District 3; Alyson R. McCullough, District 4; Klynt A. Farmer, Chairman, District 5 were present, and the meeting opened with the Call to Order, Invocation, and Pledge of Allegiance. Next meeting will be on March 15.
Sherian Wilsher-Berteau is a 3rd generation native Floridian, who grew up in Fernandina Beach. Mother of 4, Gigi to 5-Former multiple business owner, now retired & enjoying pursuing my passions-writing, cooking, & travel!
Note: We published a subsequent update on 3-21-23: