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Final Public Hearing On Baker County Mine Expansion To Be Held Tuesday Evening

Ryan Benk

Baker County Commissioners will decide Tuesday whether a mining company can move a portion of a state road and expand its operation close to Macclenny.

Chemours wants to add more than 370 acres to its existing titanium dioxide mine, just east of  County Road 228. The whitish heavy metal is used in everything from toothpaste to the M’s on M&M candies, and it occurs naturally in the area’s soil. It’s one of two similar mines in the entire country. The company says it’s nearly depleted the existing titanium dioxide supply at its current site, which employs a couple hundred people.

For 40 years, Rose Wilkerson has lived in her home, which is three miles from the mines.

Standing at her kitchen table on Monday, Wilkerson fanned out newspaper clippings about the Chemours application for a zoning exception that would allow it to mine on agricultural land to the west of its site. The company also wants to relocate a section of CR 228 in the process.

Wilkerson said she’s worried the project will siphon off too much groundwater while the area is under a drought, and she’s afraid her well could become contaminated in the process.

“It’s pretty bad when you’re 75 and you’re looking over there and seeing [Chemours parent company] Dupont laughing at us and using our water,” she said. “They’re rich; they can do anything they want to, and I can't fight them.”

Chemours lawyer Tom Ingram said 97 percent of water and soil extracted during the titanium dioxide mining process is safely returned to the ground. He also said the vast majority of water Chemours uses in Baker County is collected as storm water, not pumped from the ground.

The Baker County Community Development Department has recommended the Commission approve the expanded mining. Director Chris Milton said a process is in place to consider all impacts.

“We look at if they fulfill their application request, such as documentation, and we make a recommendation just based on those regulations,” he said. “The County Commission, they’re going to be more the vehicle for listening to input and concerns.”

Residents can have their say on its proposed expansion at the County Administration Building Tuesday starting at 6 p.m.

Earlier in the day, at 3 p.m., commissioners will continue an already two-year process to come up with new regulations for sand mining, a different type of extraction process. Ingram said the company could ask for permits for sand mining in the future, but isn't planning for any right now.

There’s a moratorium on new mining operations while the county finishes hammering out the details.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.