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Tobacco Commission OKs funds for uranium study / April 30, 2010
By John Crane
Danville Register & Bee
Reprinted with permission

ROANOKE — The Virginia Tobacco Commission approved up to $200,000 for a socioeconomic study of uranium mining and milling during its meeting Thursday at the Hotel Roanoke.

The commission followed that up with a vote to require Danville and Pittsylvania County to pay back $13.1 million in commission funding for the Berry Hill Road mega park — if uranium is ever mined there.

The first vote passed by an 18-8 margin, while the second motion — proposed by commission member Delegate Danny Marshall, R-Danville — got by on a narrow 14-12 vote. Commission member Buddy Mayhew, an investor in Virginia Uranium Inc., abstained from both votes.

Mayhew declined to comment on why he recused himself from the vote.

VUI seeks to mine and mill a 119 million pound uranium ore deposit at Coles Hill, about six miles northeast of Chatham. Virginia has had a moratorium on uranium mining and milling since 1982. VUI is indirectly paying for a statewide scientific study performed by the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council focusing on the safety and technical aspects of uranium mining and milling.

During the meeting, Tobacco Commission Vice Chairman and state Sen. Frank Ruff, R-15th District, opposed granting money for a socioeconomic study, saying it would be “unwise” to provide the funds before Virginia Beach finishes its study to determine how uranium mining and milling would impact the Lake Gaston water supply in the event of a major rainstorm.

Marshall also reminded the commission that the Danville Regional Foundation is funding a regional socioeconomic study of its own focusing on a 50-mile radius around Coles Hill. Marshall voted against spending the money for the state’s socioeconomic study.

“I think it’s premature right now,” Marshall said during an interview after the meeting. “We need to look at the other two studies and see where they are.”

Marshall said he would, if necessary, ask the Coal and Energy Commission’s Uranium Mining Subcommittee to postpone its socioeconomic study until everyone knows what questions the other two studies will ask. Duplication must be avoided, he said.

“Why do we need to ask the same questions three different times?” Marshall said.

After the commission’s vote on the study, Marshall proposed making Pittsylvania County and Danville repay $13.1 million to the Tobacco Commission if uranium is mined at the Berry Hill Road mega park. Tobacco Commission Chairman Terry Kilgore expressed surprise at Marshall’s motion.

“I didn’t realize there was any uranium there,” Kilgore said.

“We want to make sure we invested money in the mega site to create manufacturing jobs, not mining jobs,” Marshall told the commission. Marshall told the Register & Bee he proposed the idea because of concerns expressed by some residents. Mining opponents’ attempts to get uranium mining banned at the mega park site and the area around it failed.

The mega park site in southwestern Pittsylvania County is located on suspected uranium deposits. Marline Corp. had plans to mine and mill uranium in Pittsylvania County in the early 1980s, and the Danville-Pittsylvania Regional Industrial Facility Authority owns some of that old Marline land.

Phillip Lovelace, a uranium-mining opponent who lives in Gretna, called the vote for the $200,000 “an insult,” and said the vote regarding Berry Hill makes no difference. If uranium is mined at the mega park, the damage would already be done regardless of whether the city and county pay the commission back.

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