Southeast
Okefenokee swamp. Josephine Johnson, Savannah Now

FL - Environmental groups sue Army Corps of Engineers over Okefenokee swamp protections

The Southern Environmental Law Center is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its summer decision to remove Clean Water Act protections from almost 600 acres of wetlands next to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Those acres are the proposed site for Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals' titanium dioxide mine that environmental groups and experts argue will devastate the black water swamp.

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The four organizations represented by the SELC in the suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia are the National Wildlife Refuge Association, National Parks Conservation Association, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond for a request for comment.

Changing tides in legal waters

The SELC's lawsuit alleges that the Army Corps unlawfully revoked the jurisdictional determination, which removed federal protections.

The rocky legal waters can be traced back to an upheaval in recent years of federal water protections. According to the a news release, the suit is challenging the Corps' decision made under the Trump administration's now-vacated "Navigable Waters Protection Rule," which scaled back federal authority to protect waterways and wetlands.

"The August reinstatement contradicted the agency’s own internal guidance and the Administrative Procedure Act, and it was made despite officials having rescinded the determinations two months earlier," the press release noted.

Citing the swamp's environmental importance as one of the largest remaining intact freshwater ecosystems in North America, and its role in the local economy, the environmental groups argue in favor of protections in the lawsuit.

“There is only one Okefenokee Swamp and we treasure it as one of the crown jewels of the National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Geoffrey Haskett, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association in the SELC news release. “It is simply too valuable to risk for a mineral that can be found in many other places.”

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