Environmentalists are marshalling Wayne County residents to demand local ordinances to control the scope of DuPont’s plans to mine titanium oxide, zircon and other minerals from 2,254 acres it has leased near Jesup.
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company Inc. of Starke filed an application for a surface mining permit on May 2 with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for a 4,063-acre site it describes as the Amelia A & B mine.
The company says in its application it plans to use scrappers and track hoes to excavate mineral sands from the sites. The 1,318-acre A site is south of U.S 341 between Jesup and Odum and north of Holmesville Road, and the 2,744-acre B site is east of U.S. 84 between Jesup and Screven.
The permit describes the targeted land as pine forest, but two environmentalists say there’s more at stake if the company carries out plans to mine more than half of the 4,000 plus acres.
The application hits close to home for Neill Herring, who handles governmental affairs for the Sierra Club in Georgia. He lives in Jesup and says a lot of people live in and around the proposed mine.
“For an unincorporated area, it’s heavily populated,’’ Herring said. “You’re talking about opening a strip mine in a residential neighborhood.”
There had been talk of the mine for years and it was believed generally to be in an isolated area, but it’s actually where people live, he said.
“I’m surprised at how many people live out there. The woods are full of houses,’’ he said. “It’s not far from the new high school. It’s within an easy dust blow of the county athletic fields.”
There are “cutouts’’ in the mining plans for peoples’ houses, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be affected especially when the proposed scope of the mining is considered, said Herring and Satilla Riverkeeper Ashby Nix.
“They’re planning on pulling out 200 acres at a time up to 50 feet deep. That’s a big operation,’’ Nix said.
Given the geology of the area, that could affect the groundwater and residential wells, she said.
“When they dig to 50 feet, they’re going to de-water those pits, which would draw down the groundwater around them,’’ Nix said.
Also, residents should be concerned that the dust and heavy truck traffic will affect their property values, Nix and Herring said.
Nix has a purely environmental concern: With its proximity to the Little Satilla Creek, any discharges from the operation could ultimately end up downstream in the Satilla River.
As part of its application, DuPont said it will restore all the affected land within two years of mining on a particular cell.
The company did not respond Tuesday to an email seeking comment.
Nix said the company would remove only a small percentage of the sands at two separation plants in Wayne County and that would be trucked to Starke for final processing. The rest would be backfilled into the pits, she said.
DuPont is giving itself 10 years from the starting point to complete the mining, but before it begins it first has to secure a number of support permits. Those include groundwater and surface withdrawal permits from the EPD and another for a pollutant discharge elimination system. The company would also need Wayne County septic tank, potable water, building and road relocation permits.
Herring said he is hopeful Wayne County will agree on imposing more requirements to protect its citizens.
“What we’d like to do is get Wayne County to adopt a surface mining ordinance to see how it affects people’s groundwater so they don’t lose their wells,’’ he said.
The county should take a role in land use, Herring said, “so people don’t get involved in an unequal struggle with DuPont.”
Nix and Herring met with residents Tuesday night at the Cracker Williams Recreation Park to inform them of DuPont’s plans.
The next hurdle will come at the County Commission meeting at 10 a.m. Sept. 2 Herring said the commissioners will listen to the need for the surface mining ordinance.
The mine would be located along what was an ancient line of sand dunes that where titanium and other minerals were naturally deposited.
DuPont had planned to mine in a 38,000-acre tract of Trail Ridge adjacent to the Okefenokee Swamp but walked away from the project in 2001. That was four years after Bruce Babbitt, former secretary of the Interior, opposed it as being too dangerous to the swamp.
Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405