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Bill pulled from Senate committee, sending uranium project to apparent demise
SoVaNow.com / January 31, 2013RICHMOND – Legislation to regulate the mining and milling of uranium in Virginia died in a Senate committee this afternoon without a vote.
The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee heard from the bill's sponsor, Powhatan Republican John Watkins, who asked that it be pulled. Watkins' Senate Bill 1353 would have established a regulatory framework for mining uranium at the Coles Hill site in Pittsylvania County, effectively ending Virginia's 31-year mining ban.
Watkins said it was with "some regret" that he asked his bill be stricken from the committee docket.
Foes of uranium mining, including Clarksville State Sen. Frank Ruff, hailed the apparent end of efforts in the legislature this year to lift the ban. "The stigma of the possibility of mining uranium in southern Virginia has caused lots of concern, lots of fears," said Ruff.
Referring to the years-long timeframe for actually digging up Coles Hill's estimated 119-million pound deposit, Ruff said the uranium mining industry might create some jobs for the region in the undetermined future, "but in that time we'll lose 10 times that [number] of jobs" from the uncertainty that mining has created.
He called uranium mining "a cloud hanging over the region" that will crimp economic development as long as the matter remains unsettled.
State Sen. Donald McEachin, a Richmond Democrat, said uranium opponents "ought to know their voices have been heard.
"At least in this senator's judgment," said McEachin, "deep into this century there won't be any uranium mining in Virginia."
After making his remarks, Watkins promised to hold a press conference to further address the decision to pull the bill. While other uranium legislation remains on the Assembly docket, the demise of Senate bill 1353 is a clear sign that the majority of the State Senate is prepared to vote down the industry.
The Senate committee acted without holding a public hearing, although dozens of uranium opponents had come to Richmond to speak out on the issue. In attendance were five members of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, which last week passed a resolution in favor of keeping the mining ban. Also on hand were Virginia Coalition President John Cannon, Halifax Del. James Edmunds, South Boston Vice-Mayor Ed Owens, and several other Halifax and South Boston officials. Jack Dunavant, chairman of We The People and a Halifax councilman, was there with his daughter, Sarah.
One couple who lives next to the Coles Hill property in Pittsylvania, Anderson and Elizabeth Jones, said there were not satisfied by what for all appearances looked like the demise of uranium mining this year. Mr. Jones said he wanted nothing less than a permanent ban on mining and milling in the state.
“They keep passing things over, passing things over. We need them to take a stand. We’ve got all these community leaders, they need to make a decision,” he said.
The Joneses live nearby Cherrystone creek which runs next to the Coles Hill mine site. Elizabeth Jones called their farm, in the Jones’ family for 95 years, “a beautiful place, rural, quiet, and mining will destroy it.
“The scare for Pittsylvania and Southside Virginia has to stop,” she said, and her husband added it was “very disappointing” to him that Virginia Uranium Inc. “is trying to bring that poison to my community.
“We need to ban it forever,” Anderson Jones said.
This story will be updated.
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