Friday, September 27, 2013

Pittsylvania County Loses a Good Man: Services for Mr. Ecker

Services for Mr. Ecker

Marshall Ecker poses for a portrait at his home in Gretna, Va on Jan. 10.

By Peter Galuszka
During these days of GiftGate with top Virginia officials and their families accepting unreported Rolex watches, turkey dinners, corporate jet rides, New York shopping sprees, real estate loans and wedding presents, it is important to remember other public servants who shoulder on doing their work as honestly as they can.

On Thursday, Virginia lost one. He is Marshall Ecker, chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. Ecker, 68, died of an apparent heart attack Thursday while working on an outdoor project near his home in Gretna.

A supervisor since 2008, the Maryland native held firm to his values, especially in one major and emotional controversy.

Ecker bucked a well-bankrolled firm, Virginia Uranium, that wants to develop a 119 million pound deposit of uranium ore near Chatham on Coles Hill Farm. The firm has poured in $340,650 in political contributions since 2008 trying to convince the state to lift a 30 plus year moratorium on uranium mining.

The issues has badly split Ecker’s constituents in the rolling dairy farms and old textile towns near the North Carolina border. Opponents such as Ecker worry that mining would poison their water, earth and air and jeopardize important drinking water supplies for cities in Tidewater and North Carolina. Proponents believe that mining can be done safely.

It would be wonderful if the issue was a only an intelligent debate. But it has become another sleazy mess. A couple of years ago, Virginia Uranium flew a dozen legislators who would consider lifting the ban to France to visit some old mining operations. It included a company-paid night out in Paris.
To some local officials (who were not invited and likely would not have gone), dealing with mining proponents meant getting the late night calls.

Ecker, along with Supervisor Jerry Hagerman got some pressure from State Sen. Bill Stanley last year who but the muscle on them to delay a resolution on mining.

Stanley didn’t count on the ingenuity of the rural supervisors. Hagerman, a former sheriff’s deputy, had the presence of mind to tape record Stanley’s phone call. Ecker bravely backed him. Stanley slunk away.

Such a showing of courage in a rural setting may seem like something out of the movie “Erin Brockovich.”

As a journalist I have worked in small Southern towns as well as major international centers such as Washington, New York and Moscow.

I know it takes a lot more guts to stick to your views in the smaller settings.

Marshall Ecker was such a man.