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Letter presses ‘no’ vote on mine / December 27, 2012
Southside legislators have teamed up to send a joint letter to each member of the General Assembly and Gov. Bob McDonnell asking that Virginia’s ban on uranium mining and milling be kept in place.

With the legislature poised to take up the issue in the next several weeks, members of the local delegation are sounding more hopeful that efforts to lift the state’s three-decades-old moratorium can be thwarted.

“If you had asked three weeks ago” how the House of Delegates would vote on the mining moratorium, “I would have said they would lift it,” said Del. James Edmunds, a two-term Halifax Republican in the GOP-dominated lower chamber. “Now I don’t know. We might prevail [in the House of Delegates].”

Edmunds, who has frequently predicted that pro-mining legislation is more likely to fail in the state Senate — which is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats — said delegates and senators might be persuaded to uphold the ban out of deference to the views of local legislators.

“One thing I have heard consistently from my colleagues is ‘if all my colleagues [in an area] don’t want it, I’m not going to vote against them,” said Edmunds.

Edmunds also said Virginia Uranium Inc.’s plans to dig up ore at the Coles Hill site in Pittsylvania County suffered a blow when Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling visited Danville on Dec. 14 to announce his opposition to mining. “If nothing else, he [Bolling] is a vote” if senators deadlock on getting rid of the ban, said Edmunds.

The joint letter was drafted primarily by state Sen. Frank Ruff of Clarksville and is signed by five other Southside Republicans — Edmunds, delegates Tommy Wright of Lunenburg, Don Merricks of Pittsylvania and Danny Marshall of Danville, and state Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin. The group sent copies to fellow legislators and the governor earlier this month.

In the letter, the six legislators write that in opposing efforts to lift the ban, they are representing the views of the majority of their constituents who do not want to risk public health and safety and future economic development on behalf of an industry they describe as an “experiment.”

“It is safe to say there is no group of citizens in the Commonwealth who are better informed about this issue and have stronger feelings than the people who live in Southern Virginia,” the legislators write.

The letter also notes that Pittsylvania County isn’t the only place in Virginia where uranium deposits have been identified, citing other Piedmont sites and the Occoquan River basin as potential areas of interest for the mining industry. “With the risks … do you think the people in YOUR district would want a uranium mine and mill to operate there and leave 1000’s of tons of radioactive waste for future generations?” the letter asks.

State Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, has said he will introduce a bill in January to regulate uranium mining and milling at the Coles Hill site, a step that industry opponents say would effectively end Virginia’s moratorium, in place since 1982. Gov. McDonnell has not taken a formal position, but has said he will study the findings of the multi-agency Uranium Working Group before deciding whether to weigh in on the issue.

In the Dec. 3 letter, the Southside legislators write:

Dear Colleagues:

Each of us is charged by our constituents to represent their interests. They look to us to focus our efforts on those things that affect them. One of the many issues before the General Assembly this year relates to the mining and milling of uranium.

As you are aware, a site in Southern Virginia contains a large deposit of uranium which has been the topic of numerous studies and hundreds of hours of public debate and discourse.

The people we represent have read those studies. They have been both participants and observers in those debates. It is safe to say there is no group of citizens in the Commonwealth who are better informed about this issue and have stronger feelings than the people who live in Southern Virginia.

The people we represent have formed an opinion based on what they have learned from these studies. The majority of the people in our region want the ban on uranium mining and milling in Virginia to remain. Period. They have concluded that the unknown potential rewards of uranium mining are far outweighed by the unknown risks that may confront their families in future years.

It would be difficult to list all the concerns that our constituents have shared with us about the proposal to lift the ban, but a few highlights are worth noting.

Unresolved issues surrounding the storage of the dangerous radioactive byproduct of uranium mining, radioactive tailings, concern everybody who lives in this region. Understand that over 99% of the radioactive rock will be left on site for future generations to worry about polluting drinking water from Pittsylvania County to Virginia Beach. Every time we open a newspaper, it seems there is yet another storage method or regulatory scheme which has been proposed to handle this hazardous waste. It is little wonder that our constituents have no confidence that these millings can be safely stored in our area.

Uranium mining in Southern Virginia is an experiment. There is no place in the U.S. or Canada or Australia where an active uranium mine is operating (1) in a wet climate which is visited by the occasional hurricane such as is the case in Southern Virginia, AND (2) in an area where the water table is as close to the surface as is the case in Southern Virginia AND (3) with tens of thousands of people within a few miles of the mine location. It is impossible for the proponents of uranium mining to discount these critical issues.

If that doesn’t qualify as an experiment, we don’t know what does.

Finally, our economic livelihood as a region is at stake. Native industries like production agriculture and wood products are thriving, but one even small environmental accident will directly and immediately impact those markets. In the industrial sector, we are finally turning the corner in terms of creating a new and vibrant 21st century economy in Southern Virginia. New jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment have flowed into our area just in the last five years. These are good-paying, knowledge-based jobs which hold the promise of a brighter future for the Southern Region and its citizens. However, let’s be clear, the battle for economic prospects is vicious. Our region does not need this stigma hanging over our heads.

So let’s sum it up. A substantial majority of the people in our region don’t want mining. They are concerned about dangerous radioactive tailings. They do not wish to be part of a uranium mining experiment operated in this kind of climate, this close to tens of thousands of people. They are concerned about the negative impact this small industry will have on our overall economy for the long term.

As you are considering your own position on lifting the ban, please consider this. Coles Hill is not the only site in Virginia in which uranium deposits have been identified. The Piedmont region and water basins such as the Occoquan are also identified sites for further exploration and mining. Nor is the impact of the mining and storage of uranium in Coles Hill restricted to the immediate geographic area. Practically every community downstream from the proposed site, from Halifax to Virginia Beach, and the entire Roanoke River Basin community, has expressed their opposition to lifting the ban.

The people in our district are no different from the people in yours. They have the same hopes, dreams and concerns that you will find in your region. With the risks we have cited here, do you think the people in YOUR district would want a uranium mine and mill to operate there and leave 1000’s of tons of radioactive waste for future generations? We ask you to have the same compassion for our constituents as you do for yours.

Let US be clear. We are united in our opposition to lifting the ban on uranium mining. We urge all of our colleagues in the General Assembly to stand with us in doing the right thing.

State Sen. Frank Ruff
Del. Danny Marshall
Sen. Bill Stanley
Del. Don Merricks
Del. Tommy Wright
Del. James Edmunds
cc: The Honorable Robert F. McDonnell

Tell-a-Friend | Submit a Comment



please advise me on Mr. Cuccinelle position on the ban as well as Mr. McAuliff.


As both a concerned citizen and a woman of faith I find it totally beyond belieg that we are even considering lifting a Ban that was put in place to protect us. There is nothing that has changed since the Ban was started to warrant the removal of the Ban. If we are a people who profess freedom for all then we need to stand up and fight together to KEEP the BAN and allow future generations to live in with the knowledge and freedom that their drinking water is pure we own that to all who will come after us!


My deepest thanks and gratitude to the responsible and ethical leaders who submitted this letter!

TO: GOV McDONNELL OF VIRGINIA: When leaders can’t lead the idiots will take over. Do you really want your legacy to be that you destroyed the pristine agricultural and water resources that are the heart and soul of Virginia? If so, you should be arrested and charged with attempted murder if you agree to lift the ban against uranium mining in the Commonwealth! WE ARE NOT YOUR SACRIFICE ZONE!


Ken Cucchinelle is bragging about his recent win over the EPA to keep water off the list as a pollutant. While I am happy about the win, and I have congratulated Ken, I wonder if he would feel the same if an "accident" were to happen if uranium minning were allowed? Water would then be a pollutant and who is going to supply bottled water to all of us then? We must all protect our environment and uranium mining in ANYONE's back door should not be tolerated. Please represent us by continuing the ban. We all want our homes, lakes, rivers & streams to remain as they are now. Remember we all vote and will hold you accountable.


Companies exploring 4 uranium in CO must test groundwater B4 drilling (same request Pittsylvania Co citizens demanded from VU, which VU repeatedly fought, ignored and buried) & return it 2 former purity. Project Manager 4 Power-tech (a uranium mining company) admitted this reg “fatal” 2 U mining. Recovering their chemicals & uranium in water impossible 2 accomplish. “Nobody has ever been able to do that,” he said. “Groundwater remains at elevated levels of contamination.” 100,000+ gal. water needed DAILY 2 operate uranium mine former potable water is pumped back in ground radioactive. Can NEVER be reclaimed 4 consumption. VA & South-side dependent on wells 2 hydrate themselves & agriculture, wine & cattle they produce 4 consumption worldwide. These industries bring in billions of $ yearly 4 VA & been in place 4 centuries—VA Uranium would destroy it all 4 only 2 year's worth of radioactive fuel!


Thank you for upholding the BAN on uranium mining. Virginia weather is so volatile that I believe with the current knowledge about storing tailings we should continue the moratorium on mining.

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