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‘A helluva message’

South Boston News
Del. James Edmunds exhorts the crowd that gathered at his farm for a fundraiser Saturday night. / September 17, 2012

Organizers of an anti-uranium fund-raiser held Saturday night at the farm of Del. James Edmunds said they were thrilled with the turnout, the breadth of community support for their cause and the amount of money raised. But Virginia Coalition president John Cannon may have offered the most succinct wrap-up of the night:

“We sent a helluva message,” said Cannon.

The event drew more than 450 people for a night of music, comedy, food and drink under crisp starry skies, nestled amid the rolling hills of Edmunds’ River Road farm. Tickets sales and corporate sponsorships alone raised $100,000, and organizers expected tens of thousands of dollars more to roll in from auctions held throughout the night.

The money will go to pay for lobbying efforts in Richmond, anti-uranium advertising and, later, when the General Assembly takes up the state’s moratorium on mining — as it is expected to do in the 2013 session — grassroots demonstrations at the Capitol, “should the need arise,” said Edmunds.

The Coalition is making plans to bus its supporters to Richmond if the legislature goes ahead and schedules a vote to lift the state’s three-decades-old mining ban.

“Whichever way we can to get the word out,” said Edmunds.

Edmunds and state Sen. Frank Ruff, lead speakers at the event, each warned that the politics of uranium mining remain fluid, with legislators giving little hint so far on how they might vote on overturning the moratorium. Ruff emphasized the importance of having a lobbyist who can counter a similar, albeit better-funded, lobbying campaign by Virginia Uranium Inc., which is seeking to dig up and mill an ore deposit estimated at 119 million tons.

“I think most people [in the legislature] are complacent on the issue, and that’s the value of a lobbyist,” said Ruff. “When you get to Richmond, there are so many other issues pulling you in so many directions.”

Ruff said the moratorium debate is not merely a backyard battle among Southside localities but an issue with statewide implications, although the point hasn’t fully sunk in across Virginia, he conceded.

While Southside has a potentially valuable ally in the City of Virginia Beach and the Tidewater region, which draws water from Lake Gaston downstream from Coles Hill, other regions may perceive they don’t have a stake in the fight, he said.

That needs to change, said Ruff, and he pointed to the implications of lifting the ban for Orange County, which has a known uranium ore deposit. Orange County is situated on the Occoquan River watershed, which provides the back-up water supply for Fairfax County, Virginia’s most populated and prosperous locality.

“If there’s $3 billion [in uranium] to pull out of the ground here, I guarantee someone will think it’s worth it to pull a billion out of the ground somewhere else,” said Ruff.

One way or another, he added, an attempt to lift the moratorium is likely to come early next year, with VUI pressing for action before the 2013 gubernatorial election gets in gear. “There is a chance it will be put off, but I wouldn’t bank on that,” Ruff said.

“The other side is working a lot harder than we are,” Edmunds, the host, warned the crowd from beneath a huge white tent. “We’ve got to step it up.”

Edmunds cited his visiting a class at Halifax County High School and learning that Virginia Uranium Inc. was distributing materials through public schools. “Did you know your kids are getting lobbied? Did you know that?… I think that’s pretty dirty, myself.”

On hand for the fund-raiser was May Fox, a lobbyist with the Richmond law firm of Eckert Seamons whose services the fund-raiser will help pay for. (A second pro-business opposition group, the Alliance for Progress in the Danville-Pittsylvania County area, also has hired two lobbyists to work to keep the ban.) May said she made a four-hour trip Saturday to Halifax County from White Stone, Va., to participate in the fund-raiser and “hear from the people” who may be affected by mining.

She deemed the night a “wonderful” success and noted the value of individual and community voices in highlighting mining’s risks: “That carries weight with legislators,” she said.

Aside from tapping the money and support of local business leaders and governing bodies — Halifax County and the Town of South Boston both were sponsors of the event — the Coalition fete attracted a mix of out-of-towners, environmentalists, sportsmen, farmers, elected officials and activists who are waging their own efforts against VUI.

Jack Dunavant of Halifax, who heads We The People of Virginia Inc., said he was impressed by the show of support for the anti-mining cause. “Everybody has a vested interest in keeping this out of here,” said Dunavant, who added that the proposed Pittsylvania mine is “all about greed and making money and ‘to hell with the people.’

“This is getting people involved, and that’s the only way we’re going to beat this thing — with people power …. This is a great step forward in fighting this thing. And I applaud them for it,” said Dunavant of the Coalition event.

Gene Addesso, acting president of the Roanoke River Basin Association, which has lobbied Virginia and North Carolina legislators on the issue, also hailed the potential for grassroots action to stop the mine. “We’re not going to stand for this,” said Addesso, a former IBM executive. “Maybe they’ll listen” — referring to legislators — “and if they don’t, maybe they’ll get voted out.”

Addesso added that North Carolina is only now “starting to energize” on the mining issue and predicted the state would sue to stop VUI to keep it from proceeding if it succeeds in getting the Virginia General Assembly to lift the moratorium.

North Carolina has “nothing to gain out of this,” he said.

Edmunds predicted “our best chance is probably in the [Virginia] Senate to get this thing killed” and heaped praise on Ruff, a fellow Republican from Clarksville, for leading the change in the Assembly’s upper chamber. Edmunds referred to Ruff as senator for “probably all of you” — neglecting to mention State Senator Bill Stanley of Franklin, who was not at the event.

Stanley represents the western half of Halifax County, which was redistricted into the 20th Senate district last year. Stanley’s name surfaced in reports this week tying him to alleged efforts by Gov. Bob McDonnell to kill a Pittsylvania County resolution against uranium mining (see sidebar).

An attendee at the Coalition fund-raiser, Susan Stilwell, who sells real estate in Danville, said she was following the reporting on Stanley’s involvement in the Pittsylvania episode; supervisors there shelved a mining resolution prior to taking a vote, prompting some members to cry foul at what they perceive as pressure to quash the resolution from Stanley and McDonnell. A member of the Pittsylvania board, Jerry Hagerman, has produced a recording of a phone conversation in which Stanley claimed that McDonnell had asked him to intervene in forestalling a vote.

Stilwell, who also is active in the Danville Historical Society, flatly accused Stanley of telling “a lie” when he denied the Governor’s Office had gotten involved in pressing for inaction on the Pittsylvania resolution: “He called” — referring to Stanley’s Aug. 31 phone call to supervisor Hagerman — “the governor asked him to call, that’s what he said. And he’s got to live with it.”

Stilwell argued that uranium mining, if allowed, will bring in scores of miners from elsewhere who would live in sprawling trailer parks; ore will be trucked across Southside, creating yet another hazard, she warned.

Like others, Stilwell said uranium will taint Southside Virginia and, far from creating jobs, will cause potential employers to stay away from the region. Ruff made much the same case in his remarks to the crowd, arguing that Microsoft, which two years ago picked Mecklenburg County as the site of a new data center, would have scratched the region “off the list” with a mining operation nearby.

“The transportation and the stigma [are] going to affect the entire Commonwealth,” chimed in Stillwell.

In the lead-up to the fund-raiser, Cannon, the Coalition president, labeled VUI “a determined well-financed corporation” that is “investing huge sums in public relations firms and lobbyists.” But Saturday night, standing outside a tent where tables were jammed with scores of business and municipal sponsors, he struck an upbeat, almost giddy note.

“I think the statement is out there, and I really think we’re going to win this,” he said.

Party-goers were also able to mix sheer fun with fund-raising for what they consider a critical cause with implications in perpetuity.

“I am anti uranium and pro wine,” one attendee posted on Facebook from her smartphone.

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Ever wondered why all these leading citizens in the county want to keep out the mining? This would be good for us, bring in jobs, more tax base, etc etc. But no, they want to tax the citizens that are struggling to pay the bills. Common folks rise up and say no more!
Yes people will make money off this. IF you owned a piece of land that a 3 billion of minerals in it wouldn't you want to mine it?


The fair thing to do would be to buy the mineral rights from Mr. Cole if these counties don't want the mining. Whatever happened to a person owning the property and are able to harvest the benefits from the land. Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties should be able to cough up about $10,000,000,000 to pay Mr. Cole to go away. Opps, I guess you could sell these 2 counties to the Chinese and wouldn't get a small portion of the $10,000,000,000. The folks around here don't understand that many zero's. And hey Mr. James Edmunds, it offends me that you harvest all of that timber off of your land. You are murdering trees and for what, Profit??? I demand that Mr. Edmunds cease and desist from cutting any more timber from the land immediately. Lets start a petition!!!!!!

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