This morning I’m just sharing the open letter the southern Virginia delegation has sent to their colleagues in the Virginia General Assembly, as they consider a bill that would permit the mining and milling of uranium here in our county, just a few miles from this farm. If anyone reading this is a Virginian outside of southside, I’m asking that you please consider calling or writing your delegate and state senator on this issue. If you have friends or family in Virginia, please consider asking them to do so.
The opposition to this legislation is widespread here. I have never seen our community and our part of the state so united. Here’s a good summary from an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch.
A majority of the people in Southern Virginia have expressed opposition to lifting the ban, including the area’s legislators, local governments and the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, concluding that the potential risks far outweigh the potential and yet unknown rewards.
These risks include the health impacts of exposure to uranium, contamination of drinking water from Pittsylvania County to Virginia Beach and negative impacts on the region’s existing businesses, property values and ability to attract, retain and grow jobs.
The negative impacts from uranium mining and milling will far outlast the actual operation of the mine. The waste product of uranium mining, known as “tailings,” retains significant amounts of uranium as well as by-products, such as radium and thorium, heavy metals including lead, arsenic, and mercury, and other toxic materials. The Coles Hill site is estimated to produce at least 28 million tons of uranium waste, which will remain radioactive for thousands of years and need to be contained on-site indefinitely.
Failure of the waste storage facility could result in the contamination of local groundwater sources and downstream drinking water sources for more than 1.9 million people in Halifax, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake and North Carolina. The regulatory framework to govern the process could cost up to $5 million annually.
This issue is not limited to Southern Virginia, as there are concerns that the ban will be lifted statewide — in addition to Coles Hill, uranium deposits have been identified in the Piedmont region and water basins such as the Occoquan. Nor is the impact of the mining and storage of uranium in Coles Hill restricted to the immediate geographic area.
For these reasons, the Virginia Municipal League, the Virginia Association of Counties, the Virginia Farm Bureau, the Fairfax and Fauquier Water Authorities, environmental organizations, and local governments from practically every community downstream from the proposed site, from Halifax to Virginia Beach, and the entire Roanoke River Basin community, all oppose lifting the ban. Even Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, recently announced his opposition to lifting the ban.
Certainly the future of our farm rests on this vote. But just as assuredly so does the future of our community, our county and perhaps the future of Tidewater too.
Here’s the letter:
Each of us is charged by our constituents to represent their interests. They look to us to focus our efforts on those things that affect them.
One of the many issues before the General Assembly this year relates to the mining and milling of uranium.
As you are aware, a site in southern Virginia contains a large deposit of uranium, which has been the topic of numerous studies and hundreds of hours of public debate and discourse.
The people we represent have read those studies. They have been both participants and observers in those debates.
It is safe to say there is no group of citizens in the commonwealth who are better informed about this issue and have stronger feelings than the people who live in southern Virginia.
The people we represent have formed an opinion based on what they have learned from these studies.
The majority of the people in our region want the ban on uranium mining and milling in Virginia to remain. Period.
They have concluded that the unknown potential rewards of uranium mining are far outweighed by the unknown risks that may confront their families in future years.
It would be difficult to list all the concerns that our constituents have shared with us about the proposal to lift the ban, but a few highlights are worth noting.
Unresolved issues surrounding the storage of the dangerous radioactive byproduct of uranium mining, radioactive tailings, concern everybody who lives in this region.
Understand that over 99 percent of the radioactive rock will be left on site for future generations to worry about polluting drinking water from Pittsylvania County to Virginia Beach.
Every time we open a newspaper, it seems there is yet another storage method or regulatory scheme which has been proposed to handle this hazardous waste.
It is little wonder that our constituents have no confidence that these millings can be safely stored in our area.
Uranium mining in southern Virginia is an experiment. There is no place in the U.S. or Canada or Australia where an active uranium mine is operating (1) in a wet climate which is visited by the occasional hurricane such as is the case in southern Virginia, and
(2) in an area where the water table is as close to the surface as is the case in southern Virginia, and (3) with tens of thousands of people within a few miles of the mine location.
It is impossible for the proponents of uranium mining to discount these critical issues. If that doesn’t qualify as an experiment, we don’t know what does.
Finally, our economic livelihood as a region is at stake. Native industries like production agriculture and wood products are thriving, but one even small environmental accident will directly and immediately impact those markets.
In the industrial sector, we are finally turning the corner in terms of creating a new and vibrant 21st century economy in southern Virginia. New jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment have flowed into our area just in the last five years.
These are good-paying, knowledge-based jobs which hold the promise of a brighter future for the southern region and its citizens.
However, let’s be clear, the battle for economic prospects is vicious. Our region does not need this stigma hanging over our heads.
So let’s sum it up. A substantial majority of the people in our region don’t want uranium mining. They are concerned about dangerous radioactive tailings.
They do not wish to be part of a uranium mining experiment to determine if a mining and milling operation can be operated in this kind of climate, this close to tens of thousands of people.
They are concerned about the negative impact this small industry will have on our overall economy for the long term.
As you are considering your own position on lifting the ban, please consider this: Coles Hill is not the only site in Virginia in which uranium deposits have been identified.
The Piedmont region and water basins such as the Occoquan are also identified sites for further exploration and mining.
Nor is the impact of the mining and storage of uranium in Coles Hill restricted to the immediate geographic area. Practically every community downstream from the proposed site, from Halifax to Virginia Beach, and the entire Roanoke River Basin community, has expressed their opposition to lifting the ban.
The people in our district are no different from the people in yours. They have the same hopes, dreams and concerns that you find in your region.
With the risks we have cited here, do you think the people in your district would want a uranium mine and mill to operate there and leave thousands of tons of radioactive waste for future generations?
We ask you to have the same compassion for our constituents as you do for yours.
Let us be clear. We are united in our opposition to lifting the ban on uranium mining. We urge all of our colleagues in the General Assembly to stand with us in doing the right thing.
Sen. Frank Ruff
Sen. Bill Stanley
Del. Danny Marshall
Del. Don Merricks
Del. Tommy Wright
Del. James Edmunds