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IDA delays giving $5,000 to anti-mining organization

Halifax County Industrial Development Authority members referred Virginia Coalition’s request for funding to the finance committee Friday morning after discussion showed the board was split down the middle on making an immediate $5,000 contribution as requested by IDA Chairman John Cannon, who also chairs Virginia Coalition.

The decision to refer it to committee came during Friday morning’s meeting of authority board members at Riverstone.

The Virginia Coalition, a group founded to keep the ban on uranium mining in Pittsylvania County and Virginia as a whole, received a contribution of $5,000 from the IDA last year to assist it in its ongoing efforts against lifting the ban.

It is again asking the authority for financial support in its efforts to fight lifting of the ban, but authority board members agreed after discussing the donation, that it needed to follow the proper channels and get a finance committee recommendation before making a decision.

The Virginia Coalition Chairman said the group needs to raise $150,000 to continue its education and lobbying support.

“If we allow the uranium mining to go forward, it will devastate the area,” Cannon told fellow authority board members Friday morning adding economic development will suffer in the county if uranium mining is permitted.

IDA Executive Director Matt Leonard said the request for funding was received Aug. 6, but the finance committee had not met to discuss it and said the contribution is scheduled to be discussed at the October finance committee meeting.

Three members supported making an immediate donation without waiting for a recommendation from the finance committee, while three others had differing opinions. Mattie Cowan was absent from Friday’s meeting.

Cannon pushed for the board to act immediately seeking discussion on the matter Friday morning.

Describing the issue as “brutal,” authority board member Chris Lumsden, who also serves as president and CEO of Halifax Regional Hospital said he and Halifax Regional Hospital are “bitterly opposed” to the mining of uranium.

However, he noted, “The uranium people are just as passionate about this going forward as those of us who are opposed to it are passionate about seeing it not happen.”

Lumsden anticipates the uranium mining issue to resurface in the upcoming General Assembly session.

“This is not going to be won without leadership and financial resources,” he added. “This community is fighting a formidable opposition, and they are not going away very easily, and someone has to step up and fight it.”

The fight costs money if it is to be successful, the hospital CEO said.

“This IDA is focused on economic development in Halifax County, and we should be concerned as a group about what’s happening in Pittsylvania County, so I’m in favor of us opposing it and providing financial resources to do this,” he said making a motion to donate $5,000 to the anti-uranium cause.

W. W. “Ted” Bennett seconded the motion saying the fight could be “a war of attrition, and Virginia Uranium would like to make it so.”

After studying the uranium issue for two years, Bennett said he could not see anything positive for Halifax County coming out of lifting the ban.

“I think if the ban were to be lifted and operations start there, we would have a literal cloud over this region that would become known as the uranium region of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

He described the psychology and perspective people would have of this region as “negative.”

“We can not afford this. We do not need the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he added. “We do not need the IDA not to oppose it and not to give this money.”

When authority member Wanda Jeffress questioned any funds had been budgeted to fight the uranium battle, the executive director responded, “We did not.”

Leonard said the $5,000 donation is twice what has been budgeted in the sponsorship line item of the budget.

Regardless of his personal feelings about uranium, the executive director said he believes it is important for the IDA board to consider it “seriously and through a process.”

He referred to the committee process that had been put into place earlier this year so the board could act on recommendations from the appropriate committees.

“I’m concerned if we bypass this with one issue, we’ll start to bypass it with every issue,” he told authority board members.

Jeffress said although she supports keeping the ban on uranium mining, she is aware the authority already is operating at a $80,000 deficit and suggested board members make the donations personally rather than using taxpayer money.

Authority board member Garland Ricketts agreed with Jeffress reiterating the position he took last year when the board voted to make a similar donation.

“My position has not changed since last year,” he said. “Personally I oppose the uranium mining…I do not think the funding request to the IDA is appropriate. I think it is appropriate we could go on record opposing it, but this is taxpayers’ money, and we are not directly accountable to the taxpayers. Our board of supervisors is. If the money is to be given, it should be given by the board of supervisors.”

Ricketts said the IDA’s job is to create jobs and capital for this county.

“This money would be leaving the county, and plus we don’t have it,” he said referring to the deficit to which Jeffress alluded.

He said he would support it by making a donation with his personal money “to the same level I did last year.” 

Lumsden responded to Ricketts’ remarks pointing out if the battle to ban uranium mining is lost, “the taxpayers will end up having to pay because it will be detrimental to Halifax County going forward. One way or the other, taxpayers are going to pay.”

He said he would rather see the board act from a leadership and financial position in a proactive manner rather than not.

“I would rather go down fighting than being passive on this issue,” Lumsden said.

Bennett agreed describing fighting uranium as “a defensive action of the greatest magnitude.”

If the uranium ban is lifted, “it something I do not want to think about,” Bennett said, adding, “We should not give up any opportunity to defeat it for the best interest of the county.”

Authority board member Butch Blanks supports keeping the ban but informed fellow board members he is not prepared to support the funding motion on Friday.

At Blanks’ suggestion to refer it to the finance committee for their recommendation, Lumsden offered a substitute motion that did just that.

“I have no problem offering a substitute motion as long as it comes back to the board for a vote,” he added.

The substitute motion passed unanimously.

In other action Friday, the executive director updated authority members on the following items:

A draft of the 2013 financial audit is expected in November;

 In-house work continues on sorting, organizing and purge records for management purposes;

 Engineering design work at Green View is 90 percent complete with 80 percent of the $100,000 fee having been paid;

 Bid for upfitting the front of Green View should be out in the next couple of weeks; and

 Another request for funds will be made to the Virginia Tobacco Commission to fund Phase III of the Green View project.