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To keep ban, leaders push residents to go to capitol

While bills to lift the ban on uranium mining are making  their way to the General Assembly clerk in Richmond, Halifax County Industrial Development Authority Chairman John Cannon said Friday the fate of Southside Virginia is ultimately being left in the hands of legislators from all over Virginia “instead of our delegates and senators.”

Cannon told authority board members during their meeting Friday morning that Virginia Uranium Inc. is continuing its massive lobbying effort, and he urged county citizens to travel to Richmond to voice their concerns about keeping the ban.

Cannon joined other county business leaders who ventured to Richmond last week to talk earnestly with legislators about the possibility of a uranium mine becoming operational next door in Pittsylvania County.

“They want to hear from us, not lobbyists,” Cannon told fellow authority board members.

Sen. John Watkins of Powhatan and Delegate Jackson Miller have both submitted bills to lift the moratorium during this legislative session.

Watkins, who serves as vice-chairman of the coal and energy commission, is introducing legislation to regulate uranium mining, and his bill will be specifically limited to the Coles Hill deposit in Pittsylvania County.

Miller, a Republican delegate from Manassas, has introduced similar legislation in the House this session.

Virginia Uranium Inc. is eager for legislators to lift the 30-year ban, so it can get started on the process to mine the deposit of ore located on Coles Hill and is pushing its effort using professional lobbyists.

The Coles Hill uranium deposit is one of the world’s most significant undeveloped deposits of uranium ore. The mine is projected to produce up to 120 million pounds of yellow cake over its economic life. When fully operational, the mine is expected to produce 2 million pounds of yellow cake per year.

Last week Delegate James Edmunds invited local business leaders to come to Richmond to communicate what he described as “the very real issues we are already experiencing with just the possibility of a uranium mine next door.”

Joining the authority board chairman on the trip to the state capitol were Halifax County Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Pool, Beth McCubbin, local realtor Scotty Felton and Danville/Pittsylvania Chamber President Laurie Moran who spent two days speaking personally to both delegates and senators expressing their concerns about the problems uranium mining poses for Southside residents.

Edmunds said he “truly feels that sincere, personal contact makes a great deal of difference” and encouraged others to travel to Richmond and share their concerns.

“I am making an appeal for everyone who can to come to Richmond when the bills are heard in committee. That is the only time you will have an opportunity to speak against the bill,” the delegate said.

Although Edmunds is unsure of when the bill will come before committee, he promised to send out an alert as soon as the date is determined.

Cannon told authority members the reception and stigma attached to the uranium mining process “is really going to hurt us” in the county’s efforts to attract business and industry and already has had a profound effect on economic development and the recruitment of professionals to this area.

Representing area realtors, Felton told legislators how the possibility of uranium mining already has been detrimental to the real estate market in the county.

Beth McCubbin, whose husband is an emergency room doctor, also presented health concerns to legislators, Cannon said.

Halifax Regional Hospital CEO Chris Lumsden, who also serves on the authority board, said he traveled to Richmond and met with the governor three weeks ago to discuss uranium mining and its potential impacts on Halifax County.

He left that meeting with the feeling the governor plans to follow the legislators’ lead on this issue “even though he is listening to both sides.”

Lumsden said last week’s rain also has helped opponents’ cause because the Coles Hill site made the news when roads leading into the site flooded and were closed by the Virginia Department of Transportation after just about two inches of rain had fallen – a situation opponents had warned could happen.

“This is a very important issue for our county. I tend to think this is going to be more of a long distance race, than a sprint,” Lumsden added. “I don’t think it’s going to go away this year.”

Cannon pointed out last week’s unveiling of the long-awaited socio-economic report also helped uranium mining opponents’ cause because after reading it, the governor “is kinda laying back on this and is not going to take a stance on it,” he said he has been told.

Authority board member W. W. “Ted” Bennett said the socio-economic report cited clearly that 50 percent of the business community is opposed to uranium mining. 

“At least that first impression is still out there,” Bennett added.

Cannon said he is pleased with the effort and optimistic about having enough votes on the Senate side to kill the bill.

He praised the local community for contributing over $200,000 to fight to keep the moratorium on uranium mining.

“This is the most important thing that has ever come across our table since I’ve been on this board. We have got to beat this because it will hurt us … every possible way imaginable,” Cannon concluded.

 

Uranium opponents offered free bus trip to Richmond on Jan. 28

We the People of Virginia, Inc. is sponsoring a free bus trip for opponents of uranium mining on Monday, Jan. 28.

According to Jack Dunavant, chairman of  We the People, the bus will leave St. John’s Church parking lot in Halifax at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 28, and will return by 5 p.m. the same day. 

Dunavant encourages those going on the trip to bring lunch or have money to buy lunch. 

 “The people need to descend on the Capitol in the hundreds even thousands to send a message to our elected officials to stop uranium mining in Virginia now,” he said. “Our politicians will decide our fate in the next few weeks. They need to know that the people overwhelmingly say no to uranium mining.”  

“Please take a day from work to save your property values and your family’s health. Come join us, and let’s take our message to Richmond,” he added.

Also, Dunavant urged opponents of uranium mining to visit www.generalassembly.gov and call or email all the representatives and tell them to keep the moratorium on uranium mining.

 “We all can play a part, but we really need you on this trip,” he added.

For more information or to register for the bus ride to Richmond on Jan. 28,  call 434-476-6648.

—From staff reports