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Supes fund $5,000 to continue fight against uranium mining

Continuing to lend support to keeping the ban on uranium mining, Halifax County Board of Supervisors voted 5-1, with two abstentions, to give The Virginia Coalition $5,000.

 

ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank opposed the contribution to fight lifting the moratorium, while ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis and ED-6 Supervisor E. Wayne Conner abstained.

Before the vote was taken, Davis acknowledged he serves as a member of the Coalition’s advisory committee, so he would refrain from discussing or voting on the matter to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The vote came during the supervisors meeting Monday night in Halifax after Coalition Chairman John Cannon updated supervisors on progress the group has made over the last year.

Cannon had sought a $10,000 donation, the level supervisors funded last year. However, since the money had not been budgeted, supervisors opted to fund $5,000 now and consider placing $5,000 in the budget for a later donation.

At the same time, supervisors were giving the Coalition $5,000, South Boston Council also was unanimously voting to fund $5,000 to the group’s efforts to keep the ban, and Halifax Town Council members said they planned to make a $5,000 contribution Tuesday evening at their monthly meeting.

Cannon described The Virginia Coalition as “the most significant group to alert all of Virginia” to the possibilities of Virginia Uranium Inc. mining a 119-million-pound uranium ore deposit six miles from Chatham if the moratorium is lifted.

The ban on uranium mining has been in place since the early 1980s.

More than two years ago, the Virginia Coalition held a press conference in Richmond “sparking the interest all over Virginia with our mission,” Cannon told supervisors.

Currently, 16 lobbying groups throughout Virginia have joined Virginia Coalition’s cause along with 107 political jurisdictions and businesses that have passed resolutions against lifting the ban.

The Coalition’s education/lobbyists, Eckert & Seamans in Richmond, are working all year long with five people designated to the sole effort of fighting lifting the ban at a cost of $10,000 per month during the session, Cannon continued.

In an effort to have the ban lifted, Virginia Uranium Inc. spent over $570,000 this past year in lobbying efforts and was by far the largest spender for lobbying in 2013, he said. This year, Cannon said Virginia Uranium has turned its efforts toward the executive branch to move forward with the approval of writing regulations before the legislatures can vote on it.

“We also have heard they will be going to the House trying to get them on board prior to approaching the Senate,” Cannon said.

In addition to working with local town councils and supervisors, The Virginia Coalition chairman said he has made presentations to the Halifax and Mecklenburg IDAs and received previous financial support from the Clarksville Economic Development Group.

“One of our key board members on the Coalition is Jessie Barksdale, a member of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors,” Cannon said.

Asking supervisors to be “sensitive to our request,” the Coalition chairman said the group is concerned about the long-term economic viability of the area because of the stigma of mining and milling.

County Administrator Jim Halasz did not address the donation during the meeting Monday evening. However, in a packet of information sent to the board prior to the meeting, he had recommended supervisors not provide funding for the Coalition using taxpayer dollars.

Cannon, who took offense to the county administrator’s recommendation, pointed out after the meeting a contribution of $5,000 would amount to 14 cents per county resident, and a donation of $10,000 would amount to 28 cents per person.

“We’re not asking the supervisors to go fight this battle, we are just asking them to support us as we fight their battle,” Cannon concluded.

Also speaking Monday night were Coalition board member Beth McCubbin, whose husband is an emergency physician at Halifax Regional Hospital and medical director for Halifax County EMS, and Halifax Town Councilman Jack Dunavant.

McCubbin said she and her family relocated to the county four and a half years ago with plans to stay.

“Unfortunately if the ban is lifted on uranium mining, we along with many other medical families will not stay,” she told supervisors.

“I have a 5-year-old daughter who we will not take a chance of subjecting her to any potential radiation in the water,” McCubbin added.

Halifax Councilman Dunavant told supervisors if they had to pay minimum wage to all the volunteers who have taken up the battle to prevent the ban from being lifted on uranium mining, they would owe these volunteers up into the six figures.

“We’re only asking for $5,000,” Dunavant said. “Please step up to the plate.”

Before offering a motion to fund $5,000 “at this time” to The Virginia Coalition, ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman described the uranium mining issue as “the most critical issue” for the future of the county in terms of the environment and economy.

Referring to the county administrator’s remarks written in the packet information concerning money not being budgeted for the request, Bowman replied, “A budget is just a budget. A lot of changes can occur to it.”

Saying he understands taxpayers’ concerns, he added, “I don’t think we can take the chance of the ban being lifted. We don’t want to find out what will happen if the ban is lifted. It will not be pretty.”

ED-3 Supervisor William I. Fitzgerald offered a second to Bowman’s motion, and in a roll call vote, Bank was the only supervisor opposing the $5,000 contribution to The Virginia Coalition to continue their fight to keep the ban on uranium mining.