Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 10:30 am
By TIM DAVIS
Star-Tribune EditorChatham Star Tribune
Star-Tribune EditorChatham Star Tribune
Members of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors got an earful Monday night when about 200 people packed the General District Courtroom in Chatham for a citizens’ forum on uranium mining and milling.
The meeting lasted almost three hours as speaker after speaker shared their views on the divisive issue
Staunton River District Supervisor Marshall Ecker organized the forum, a first for the county board.
“We do care about what you have to say,” said Ecker, who described the forum as a “brainstorming” session on what supervisors should do on uranium mining and milling.
“We need to have a starting point, and tonight was that starting point,” he said. “I see several directions the board needs to be taking.”
Banister District Supervisor Jesse Barksdale, who moderated the forum, said it exceeded his expectations.
“People were orderly and civil in making comments. Everybody was so respectful,” he said. “It shows we can agree to disagree.”
Barksdale said comments from the meeting, which was recorded, will serve as an “informational resource” for supervisors.
Chatham-Blairs District Supervisor Brenda Bowman and Callands-Gretna District Supervisor Jerry Hagerman also attended the forum.
Hagerman said he has received a flood of telephone calls against uranium mining, but not one in favor.
“The public is saying uranium mining must be stopped before it starts,” he said. “We do have the power to stop uranium mining.”
A former coal miner, Hagerman accused the board of hiding behind a 2009 resolution that urged state legislators not to lift a 30-year moratorium unless it can be proved uranium mining will cause no damage or harm.
Supervisors have repeatedly rejected an outright local ban on uranium mining, and a 2009 attorney general’s opinion confirmed the county does not have the authority to ban mining.
Speakers urge supervisors to take stand
Forty-two people spoke at Monday night’s forum. All but seven were against uranium mining.
Andrew Lester, a county resident and executive director of the Roanoke River Basin Association, urged supervisors to adopt a stronger resolution on uranium mining.
“We have to take a stand on this issue,” said Lester. “You’ve got to take some decisive steps. I want you to know we’ve got your back.”
Chatham businessman Ben Davenport Jr. said uranium mining isn’t worth the risk and could jeopardize present and future economic gains.
Davenport said the ban should remain in place until it can be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” that uranium mining can be done safely.
“We have just one opportunity to get it right,” he said.
Representatives of Chatham Hall and Hargrave Military Academy warned that the “stigma” of uranium mining could hurt future enrollment at the private schools, which attract more than 400 students each year and employ hundreds.
Deborah Lovelace of Gretna urged supervisors to update and strengthen county zoning and ordinances to protect against uranium mining.
“Pittsylvania County’s future is in your hands,” she said. “You have a huge responsibility.”
Her husband, Phillip, agreed.
“Protect me, my family, my county, my friends, and my neighbors,” he said.
The Lovelaces’ daughter, Jasmine, a recent graduate of Gretna High School, said she won’t return to the county after college if uranium mining is allowed.
“If you think uranium mining will bring jobs, you are mistaken,” she said.
Karen Maute, a county resident and president of Piedmont Residents In Defense of the Environment, asked supervisors to protect the community’s health and safety by enacting ordinances and throwing up “roadblocks” to uranium mining.
Elizabeth Jones, chairman of the Pittsylvania County Democratic Committee, read a resolution asking for a permanent ban.
“We need protection,” said Eloise Nenon of Chatham, who joined the fight against uranium mining 30 years ago. “We want to stay here. We don’t want to leave. Keep the ban. Take a stand.”
Ann Cockrell and Joyce Wilburn agreed.
“This is God’s country,” said Cockrell. “I think we need to respect that and keep it God’s country.”
Wilburn worried about the effect uranium mining will have on jobs, tourism, and schools.
“Our quality of life is being threatened,” she said. “We cannot sacrifice the future for short-term gains.”
Gretna dairy farmer Tommy Motley pointed out what is at stake. Motley’s dairy is just a mile and a half from the proposed uranium mine.
“If I lose my water or my market for milk, who is responsible for that?” he wondered.
Joseph Towle had the same concern.
“What is the responsibility if something does happen?” he said. “I’ll lose my property and maybe my health. Who will pay for damages? Who’s responsible?”
Susan Paynter of Chatham compared uranium mining to a “roll of the dice” and said she learned early in life never to bet more than you can afford to lose.
“That’s what Pittsylvania County is being asked to do,” she said. “An entire community should not be forced to bet more than it can afford to lose.”
Linda Frank lives three miles from the proposed uranium mine and has cancer.
She said the area around the uranium mine will be a “dead zone” and suggested Virginia Uranium Inc. buy homes and farms so people can move away.