St. Marys River, swamp join list of ‘Most Endangered’

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A national river advocacy organization named the Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys River among its list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, citing the threat that a proposed titanium mining operation could pose to the health of the waterway.

American Rivers and its partners called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other permitting agencies to deny any proposals that risk the long-term protection of swamp and river, said a news release from American Rivers. It was the only watershed in Georgia to make this year’s list. 

In 2019, Twin Pines Minerals submitted an initial application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to operate on 2,414-acres, located 1.7 miles from the refuge boundary. Though Twin Pines submitted a revised application in 2020 in which it slightly reduced the size of the first project area, government agencies expect operations to eventually grow to 12,000-acres, potentially coming within 400-feet of the swamp itself, said the release. 

“America’s Most Endangered Rivers is a call to action,” said Ben Emanuel, Atlanta-based clean water supply director with American Rivers. “Some places are simply too precious to allow risky mining operations, and the edge of the unique Okefenokee Swamp is one. The Army Corps of Engineers must deny the permit to save this national treasure.”

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report described the list as rivers that are “at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates.” Although the swamp is not located Camden County, its influence on the St. Marys River and its watershed can not be understated, said Alex Kearns, chair of the St. Marys EarthKeepers. 

“The St. Marys is an extraordinarily beautiful and fragile blackwater river that has shaped the history, economy, and culture of our region,” she said. “It surfaces as a tiny stream known as ‘River Styx’ and flows from the western edge of Trail Ridge, the primordial remnants of a barrier island system, and into the southeastern Okefenokee Swamp. From there it flows south, then east, then north, then east-southeast until finally, after a journey of 125 river-miles, it delivers its unique brew into the Atlantic near St. Marys, Georgia, and Fernandina Beach, Florida. It is essential, irreplaceable and cherished.” 

According to the release, other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in past years include the Ocklawaha River (2020), Apalachicola River (2016, 2002, 2000 and 1997), St. Johns River (2008), Altamaha River (2002), Peace River (2004) and Flint River (2016, 2012, 2000, 1998 and 1996)

“The Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys River define the communities and families of Southeastern Georgia,” adds Alice M. Keyes, VP of Coastal Conservation with One Hundred Miles. “Generations of Georgians have depended on this natural asset for food, jobs, and quality of life. No one corporation should be permitted to destroy that legacy for short-term gain.”