An Alabama company’s permit application to mine for heavy minerals near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge contained false information that a lawyer said could lead to criminal charges.
Josh Marks, a lawyer for TIAA, said his company never gave Twin Pines Minerals permission to mine for titanium dioxide and other heavy minerals on its tract near the world-famous swamp.
TIAA, a financial services company, owns about a quarter of the 898-acre site identified on an application filed by the Alabama-based company to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Marks said Twin Pines “committed fraud” against the Corps and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources when company officials falsely stated they had control of the TIAA property. An applicant is required to have ownership or control over land it is proposing to mine at the time of the application filing, Marks said.
The penalty for falsifying a permit application is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The penalty for falsifying a state permit application is a $1,000 fine, Marks said.
In its application, Twin Pines officials claimed they had a lease for the TIAA tract. In a recent permit application, Marks said Twin Pines officials gave conflicting information, claiming in one place that they owned the tract. In another place in the application they claimed they had the land under control.
Neither agency asked Twin Pines officials for proof of ownership or control of the tract, in part because Twin Pines officials said they were negotiating with TIAA for a lease, he said.
“This was a lie since TIAA has stated publicly it has never discussed a lease with Twin Pines Minerals,” Marks said. “And even if true, it wouldn’t have met the requirement of having the legal right to control the land at the time of filing the permit application.”
Twin Pines officials have said they will amend the application to exclude the TIAA tract.
Marks said Twin Pines has demonstrated it cannot be trusted to operate near an environmentally sensitive area like the Okefenokee, and the application should be rejected in its entirety by the Corps and DNR.
Marks said TIAA officials have publicly stated the company “has no interest in selling, leasing or otherwise granting permission” to Twin Pines to mine on the property because the company has shown it cannot be trusted to operate near the wildlife refuge.
As for the alleged violations of state and federal law in the application, Marks said he doesn’t expect anything to happen.
“Neither the Corps of Engineers nor the DNR intends to penalize Twin Pines Minerals,” he said. “They appear willing to turn a blind eye to Twin Pines Minerals’ fraud, which is outrageous.”
If the agencies choose not to reject the application, Marks said a more comprehensive study needs to be conducted before a decision is made.
“If for some unknown reason the agencies ignore Twin Pines Minerals’ fraud, then a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement must be conducted to exhaustively investigate the project’s impacts on the swamp and Twin Pines Minerals and its owners’ history,” he said. “The very survival of the swamp and the reputations of the Corps and DNR are all at stake.”