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Mining foes take fight to state capitol

SoVaNow.com / January 21, 2013
Halifax County officials are pushing for a big turnout Jan. 28 at an anti-uranium rally at the State Capitol, in the run-up to a General Assembly vote on whether to lift the 1982 ban on mining in Virginia.

With the introduction of House and Senate bills last week to effectively lift Virginia’s moratorium (see story below), uranium mining was the chief topic of discussion for the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority at its meeting Friday.

“This is the most important issue to come before us since I have been on this board,” said IDA Chairman John Cannon. “The perception attached to the mining and milling of uranium hurts economic development, as well as real estate sales.”

The Richmond rally, to be held at the Capitol Square next Monday starting at 1 p.m., is expected to draw thousands from around the state, representing local communities and governments, land use and environmental groups, and religious and civil rights organizations.

We The People of Virginia, Inc., a local opposition group headed by Jack Dunavant, is providing free bus transportation from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Halifax, with a 9:30 a.m. departure. All members of the public are invited to join the local contingent.

The rally comes into response to Virginia Uranium Inc.’s push to lift the ban on mining at the Coles Hill site in Pittsylvania County, where the company hopes to mine an estimated 119-million pound ore deposit.

Governing bodies in Halifax County, South Boston and the Town of Halifax have stated their opposition to mining, pointing to the risk of radioactive toxins being released downstream into the Roanoke River basin and into the atmosphere. Southside communities have been joined in opposition by Virginia Beach, Norfolk and North Carolina localities that draw water supplies from the Roanoke River basin.

Cannon urged board members to plan to go to Richmond next Monday, pointing out that more than $200,000 has been raised locally to carry on the fight against the VUI project.

“It’s tough when we have to spend so much time and so much of our resources on this defensive move,” added IDA director and former legislator Ted Bennett, “but it is so important.”

Bennett said uranium mining threatens efforts to turn around the local economy after the loss of traditional Southside industries such as furniture and textiles. He noted that Halifax County, along with Rockingham County, has been recognized by state economic development officials for having “the most advanced” development program in the state — progess that the VUI project would undo, he argued.

HRHS President Chris Lumsden, also an IDA director, said the recent six days of constant rain “should have helped our case, I believe.” He was referring to the fact that uranium mining has been restricted in the United States to dry climates, in contrast to Southside Virginia, which receives abundant rainfall.

“This is going to be a long distance race and while we may win the initial sprint, it’s not going away,” said Lumsden.

Last week, Virginia Uranium brought supporters of the mining project to Richmond for a legislative hearing, drawing statewide publicity. VUI, which contends that mining can be conducted safely, argues that the Coles Hill project will create up to a thousand jobs and generate millions in tax-revenue for economically-depressed Southside.

We The People’s Dunavant, in an appeal to mining opponents, urged them to counter the “70 paid stooges” brought in by VUI. “Our numbers will say it all,” he stated.

“If we sit back we’re doomed — a handful of Richmond politicians will shove uranium mining down our throats. It’s now or never,” he continued.

Legislation to create a regulatory framework for mining was introduced in the House of Delegates by Manassas Republican Jackson Miller and in the State Senate by Powhatan Republican John Watkins. Commerce committtees in both chambers are expected to take up the bills in the coming days, although no votes have been scheduled.



A call to rally in Richmond

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