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Letters to the Editor for April 4, 2009 / April 02, 2009
Dismaying experience

(Editor’s note: Corbin Crews Harwood, a Halifax County native, sent the following letter to every member of the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission Uranium Subcommittee after the panel authorized a study of uranium mining at the Coles Hill site in Pittsylvania County. Following that meeting last week, citizens were advised that their comments would be forwarded to the National Research Council, which will be asked to conduct the study.)

The Honorable R. Lee Ware, Chair
Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy
Uranium Mining Sub-Committee
Richmond, VA
Dear Chairman Ware,
Thank you very much for allowing me to speak on Tuesday before the Uranium Mining Sub-Committee. You invited me to send my comments in writing to you, and I am doing that in this e-mail. My comments are attached and are also copied below.
I am the person who, with my sister and brother, owns a farm near Clover, VA., where my family for thirty years operated a summer residential youth camp that enjoyed an international reputation. My family has lived in Halifax County for generations. I graduated from Halifax County High School and later obtained J.D. and M.D. degrees. Although I now have my primary residence in Washington, D.C. with my husband, I am in Halifax County on average twice a month to visit my father who lives there, to enjoy our farm, and to check on trees we recently planted through the CREP program. I am a Virginia taxpayer.
Our farm encompasses a mile of land abutting the Staunton River. Although my father’s declining health necessitated our shutting down the camp over two years ago, we hope in the future to have a camp operating there again. The river has been a big part of our lives and campers’ lives. We canoe and kayak on this designated scenic river, but because of chemical contamination, we no longer fish or swim there. We continue to get our water from wells.
I am most concerned about potential health risks of uranium mining, milling and processing in Pittsylvania County since Coles Hill is not far from our family farm/camp. I welcome an unbiased, scientific study of the health, safety, and environmental risks of mining uranium in Virginia. Unfortunately, the recent experience at the subcommittee hearing did not inspire confidence that the study will be an impartial one.
First, I was dismayed that citizen comments on the scope of study were not taken until after the proposed scope of study was adopted. In spite of his attempt at comprehensiveness and impartiality, I think there are some very troubling aspects to Dr. Karmis’s proposal. Now that the Uranium Mining Sub-Committee has given Dr. Karmis authority to take his proposed scope of study to the National Research Council (NRC), it is hard to believe that my comments or those of any other Virginia taxpayer will have much effect. The horse is out of the barn.
Second, I do not know if you are aware of this, but the sign-up process to speak needs to be better monitored in the future. Although a number of us with concerns about uranium mining were in the hearing room long before the sign-up sheet appeared, when it was put on the podium for us to add our names, at least 6-8 names written in the same handwriting and ink had already been put at the top of the list. With the exception of one elected official, all of those names were of people who spoke in support of mining of uranium.
As I was leaving the hearing room, one of the panel members observed that he did not know whether any of us with concerns about the safety of mining ever could be convinced otherwise, no matter the outcome of the scientific study. I would like to dispute that opinion. I am open-minded and more than willing to be convinced, but I think the burden of proof should be on the subcommittee to prove to Virginia residents and property owners that mining can be done safely, not on citizens to prove that it is not safe. When the group that wants to mine uranium also funds the study, when the mining proponents are given sign-up priority so they can speak first, when citizen input on the scope of the study is not permitted until after approval is given to take the study to the NRC, then I am hard-pressed to understand WHY I should not fear that the die is cast and that the opinion of concerned citizens does not count.
I love my native state and will always consider it home no matter where my primary residence is. I love the ideals of democracy. I like to think that even though residents of southside cannot afford to employ 17 lobbyists from five major law firms, our voices will be heard. Most importantly, I pray that our health will not be sacrificed to the economic engine of Virginia. As I said at the committee hearing, even though southside has the highest unemployment rate in the state, I doubt many residents would willingly give up their health for a job. And adding another unhealthy industry to our area ensures that there will be more dirty industry to follow. Therefore, I respectfully request that you review my attached comments on the scope of study and if you think my points have merit, ask that you bring them to the attention of the National Research Council.
With great appreciation,
Corbin Crews Harwood

Comments on Uranium Mining Scope of Study by Corbin C. Harwood
Before the Uranium Mining Sub-Committee
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
Richmond, VA
1. The scope of study as written implies that mining, milling, and processing uranium will bring financial benefits that should be viewed as important as the health and safety of Virginia residents. The scope of study should be redrafted to eliminate any implied bias. The scope of study is book ended by reviews of economic considerations even though that has nothing to do with whether uranium safely can be mined in Virginia--the question the Uranium Mining Sub-Committee was charged with answering. It puts the cart before the horse, implying that if the economic benefits are great enough, Virginia may be justified in sacrificing the health of part of the state to obtain those benefits. The burden of proof should be just the opposite. The FIRST question that should be asked is, "Is it safe to mine, mill, and process uranium in Virginia?" ONLY if that can be answered in a positive fashion should the additional questions be asked. Delegate Abbitt and Delegate Janis eloquently articulated this concern in their questions during the subcommittee hearing on March 24, 2009.
a. The investors of Virginia Uranium Inc. alone should determine if they think it is economically viable to mine uranium in light of supply and demand, occurrences, and other such topics included in the scope of study. The first topic listed in the scope of study is “Uranium Supply/Demands Trends and Projections.” This is not an issue for an independent scientific or technical study and, in any event, should not be considered by the same group doing such a scientific study. There is an inherent conflict of interest. Dr. Karmis’s statement during the hearing that, “[Although] there may be many occurrences of uranium, that does not mean one will have a commercially viable deposit,” is illustrative that the scope of study will be examining issues that Virginia Uranium should examine before it takes up the time of the Virginia Legislature and an independent scientific research organization.
b. The Socio-Economic Impacts of Uranium Mining (Part II of the Scope of Study) also is flawed. As noted, the Economic Impacts are reviewed following the “Social Impacts.” It thus has the last word in the scope of study. The “Economic Impacts” look at things such as job creation and tax revenues, but incredibly, never mention loss of jobs or loss of tax revenue. Equally astounding is that “Effects on local…commercial activity” and “Marketability of the region for other industry” are put under “Social Impacts” not “Economic Impacts.”
2. The health effects of mining uranium should be considered in a regional context, weighing the additive effects of existing or other planned activities or conditions affecting the health and safety of residents.
Halifax County has a large coal-fired power plant. Hyco power plant, among the dirtiest in the country, is just to the south of the county. A wood chip burning power plant is planned within the city limits of South Boston. Other industry is in the area. The rivers flowing through the county are contaminated with PVCs. Coal ash has been used for regrading land in flood plains. Logging has removed large swaths of trees that previously cleaned the air. There are other environmental insults as well that have an impact on the health of citizens. All of this should be considered when determining if mining and milling of uranium would, if added to the existing conditions, lead to unacceptable health risks for the community.
3. If the economic impact of mining uranium is part of the study, then as part of “Uranium Supply/Demand Trends and Projections,” alternative energy supplies such as renewable energy sources and conservation measures also should be evaluated. With the huge federal push for green energy industries, it is possible that the demand for uranium will decrease. Unquestionably, alternative energy sources and conservation of energy present vastly lower public health risks than does the mining of uranium. To repeat, the need for mining uranium cannot be studied in a vacuum without considering other possible energy alternatives.
4. Part I of the Scope of Study should not be started until there is adequate funding up front for both Parts I and II. If it is determined that the safety risk of mining uranium is acceptable, then the second part of the study will be essential and it should be done with the same diligence and comprehensiveness as Part I. The only way to guarantee this is to have adequate funding for both Parts of the Scope of Study before study on either is begun.
Corbin Harwood
Washington, DC

On top of the issue

Dear Viewpoint:

The first meeting of the Bi-State Commission was held in Clarksville, VA on Friday, March 27, 2009. This event marks the culmination of a long awaited objective of the RRBA, and our association worked vigorously and persistently to see it achieved. Made up of nine members including legislators from each state, the commission was put in place to:

Provide guidance, conduct joint meetings, and make recommendations to local, state and federal legislative and administrative bodies, and to others as it deems necessary and appropriate, regarding the use, stewardship, and enhancement of the Basin’s water and other natural resources.

This action is regarded by the RRBA to be our best chance of properly managing the use of the waters of entire basin without having to engage in State “Water Wars” and lawsuits. To this end a key recommendation made by the RRBA was voted on and passed early in the session. The recommendation was to:

Immediately establish an AD Hoc Committee to develop a Document of Understanding with the State of Virginia, North Carolina and the USACE regarding the allocation and withdrawals of water out of the Roanoke River Basin.

To this end Bi-State Commission staff was directed to convene a brain storming session for outlining the protocol that we hope will become a Bi-State compact. The RRBA expects to participate in the session.

President Harold Carawan and Vice President Gene Addesso were in attendance.

Gene Addesso

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