Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Senate rethinks uranium exploration guidelines/ Meetings on the setback issue / The HB 1084 and 1219

Comments:  Love FM comments!

Senate rethinks uranium exploration guidelines
By Eric Luther - Capital News Service
Prince William Times

RICHMOND -- A bill was tabled this past week that would require uranium exploration permit holders to reimburse the State Health Department for providing water supply analyses to residents near Southside drilling activities.

Proposed by Sen. Frank Ruff Jr., R- Mecklenburg, Senate Bill 547 mandated permit holders sample and submit an analysis of private wells within 750 feet of exploration activity to the Virginia Department of Health every six months to inspect water quality.

The bill, which is being carried over until next year’s General Assembly session, required an easy-to-understand explanation of the test results. The legislation also necessitated a final sample be taken six months after each exploratory hole is plugged.

According to a press release, Ruff chose to postpone his bill after speaking with several stakeholders and Pittsylvania residents whom experienced problems with their wells after exploratory drilling occurred. Because necessary state reports given to families were technical in nature, Ruff says they did not understand the full health risks they faced.

“My goal is to get somebody at the health department to take that report and translate it into something people can understand,” Ruff said. “We hope we can have a more comprehensive way of looking at it.”

Ruff says the bill in no way suggested future mining activity take place in the commonwealth.

“There was a bill last year to lift the moratorium,” Ruff said. “It was withdrawn at the last minute because there was no support for it.”

Stanley says SB547 -- as it was introduced -- was intended to safeguard the health of Virginians from any adverse effects drilling for core samples might create.

“What we’re trying to do is protect the water of our people,” Stanley said. “It is one of our greatest natural resources.”

According to Stanley, Southside Virginia is home to some of the best watersheds in the country.

Jack Dunavant, president of Dunavant Engineering and Construction in Halifax County, has opposed uranium mining in Virginia for more than 30 years. He says SB547 may have looked good on paper, but ultimately was not.

“I don’t know how you could craft it (a bill) so a lot of these people would understand it,” Dunavant said. “I don’t know how to alert people other than to tell them it (the level of contaminants) exceeds certain acceptable limits.”

The engineer says SB547 was a step in the right direction, but the legislation needs to impose further regulations on any company wishing to begin exploratory drilling.

“It’s an OK bill,” Dunavant said. “But they (permit holders) should be required to notify any adjacent land owner and anyone who has a well within 1,000 feet of the property line where they’re drilling.”

Dunavant says the overwhelming majority of Southside residents oppose any sort of mining in the area.

“I cannot see the state ever allowing mining to happen because of the long-term detriment,” Dunavant said. “The bottom line is it’s not a question of if -- it’s (chemicals) going to get out -- but when and by what means.”

Dunavant says if companies could mine without leaving behind tailings, no one would have a problem extracting uranium. However, the technology simply does not exist.

“Most people don’t have the expertise to understand it,” Dunavant said. “This stuff is insidious. We have to be smarter about what we do.”

Stanley says SB547, as it was introduced, was a good consumer protection bill.

“Any mining -- if it ever occurred -- would have to be not only safe but not affect our livestock and our people,” Stanley said. “I would think water quality comes before profits. People come before profits.”
Comments from KM:  So, you thought the issue of uranium mining was a dead issue in the 2014 General Assembly?  Perhaps not.  The HB 1084 and 1219 seem to be focused on dismantling local ordinances which have been reviewed and subject to public hearings by the public and adopted by duly elected representatives of the municipality. 
The proposals below will result in a "chilling effect" on municipalities with regard to performing duties and enforcing ordinances for fear of lawsuits. Who benefits? Likely it will not be the average citizen who requests a rezoning or special use permit. There is a local process by which can appeal decisions and court is always an option.  
Could legislation such as that proposed below be used as a tool by larger entities, such as uranium mining and milling companies, to threaten lawsuits if local ordinances hinder their development and/or bottom line? 

Offered January 9, 2014
A BILL to amend the Code of Virginia by adding a section numbered 15.2-2208.1, relating to unconstitutional grant or denial by localities of certain permits and approvals.
Patron-- Morris
Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. That the Code of Virginia is amended by adding a section numbered 15.2-2208.1 as follows:
§ 15.2-2208.1. Damages for unconstitutional grant or denial by locality of certain permits and approvals.
A. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, general or special, any applicant aggrieved by the grant or denial by a locality of any approval or permit, however described or delineated, including a special exception, special use permit, conditional use permit, rezoning, site plan, plan of development, subdivision plan, construction plan submittal, waiver, and building or occupancy permit, where such grant included, or denial was based upon, an unconstitutional condition pursuant to the United States Constitution or Constitution of Virginia, shall be entitled to an award of damages, reasonable attorney fees, and court costs and to an order remanding the matter to the locality with a direction to grant or issue such permits or approvals without such conditions.
B. In any proceeding, once an unconstitutional condition has been proven by the aggrieved applicant to have been a factor in the grant or denial of the approval or permit, the court shall presume, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, that such applicant's acceptance of or refusal to accept the unconstitutional condition was the controlling basis for such impermissible grant or denial.
Offered January 17, 2014
A BILL to amend the Code of Virginia by adding a section numbered 15.2-2208.1, relating to unconstitutional acts and ultra vires enforcement by localities.
Patron-- Marshall, R.G.
Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. That the Code of Virginia is amended by adding a section numbered 15.2-2208.1 as follows:
§ 15.2-2208.1. Unconstitutional acts and ultra vires enforcement by localities; remedies.
A. Any zoning ordinance of a locality, or any other ordinance related to land use or development, that violates or unreasonably restricts the free exercise of rights guaranteed under the United States Constitution or the Constitution of Virginia shall be null and void and shall constitute a violation of this section. Any enforcement by a locality of such ordinance shall be deemed a violation of this section.
B. In any litigation in which the constitutionality of a zoning ordinance, or any other ordinance related to land use or development, or its enforcement is at issue, the ordinance shall not be given a presumption of constitutionality or presumption of validity.
C. A locality's enforcement of any zoning ordinance, or any other ordinance related to land use or development, that is ultra vires shall constitute a violation of this section.
D. In any litigation involving a challenge under this section, the burden of establishing compliance with this section shall be on the locality.
E. Any locality that violates this section shall be liable to aggrieved persons in amounts equal to the fines and penalties that the locality seeks to impose on such aggrieved persons, plus actual damages including reasonable attorney fees.
F. Any locality that willfully violates this section, or whose interpretation or enforcement of ordinances willfully operates in violation of this section, shall be liable to the aggrieved person for treble damages, plus reasonable attorney fees. Any official or employee of a locality that willfully violates this section, or whose interpretation or enforcement of duties willfully operates in violation of this section, may be personally liable to aggrieved persons in the amount equal to the fines and penalties that such official or employee seeks or sought to impose on such aggrieved persons plus actual damages and attorney fees.
G. The Attorney General of Virginia shall establish a procedure whereby persons, including officials and employees of localities, may report violations of this section. No locality may take disciplinary action against any official or employee for reporting violations of this section. Any locality that violates this subsection shall pay the aggrieved person's damages, including attorney fees. The Attorney General (i) shall have authority to institute legal proceedings in the courts of the respective locality and (ii) may intervene in any proceeding to enforce this section against any locality.
One man's shit is another man's sugar...
Comments from KM:  Also of concern is the Pittsylvania County's newly appointed setback committee.  Documentation received seems to suggest that it will seek to have sludge (animal and municipal) spread to property lines rather than use currently existing setbacks from homes and wells of adjoining property owners. 
This seems to indicate that the state mandated setbacks will be imposed on the neighbor of the sludge spreader.  Who, you ask, would want to spread sludge up to a neighbors property line and encroach on the neighbor's property?  
“All we’re asking for is that people in agricultural districts to comply with the same regulations we do,” Winn said.  Jefferson, who owns the largest dairy farm in the county, agreed. 

If landowner knows the setback requirements, he might choose to put his house or well in another location on the property to eliminate encroachments, Jefferson said.  Mr. Jefferson appears ignorant of the fact that not everyone in agricultural districts needs the same regulations since not everyone spreads sludge.

This would be a test run for HB 1219 and 1084 if they pass. 

 It would be tested by the one Farm Bureau in all of Virginia that wanted to see uranium regulations written.  What's in it for them?  Perhaps the ability to store copious amounts of waste rock (overburden) from uranium mining.  If there's not a subsidy for that, maybe the mining companies will pay.

George Winn is also appointed to the setback committee.  His name may be familiar to you.

A question of feet and fertilizer
Setback requirements sets up battle with homeowners, farmers

At least one county farmer, George Winn, said he would like to see future homeowners and owners of other dwellings be required to comply with the same setback regulations as farmers.

New group forms to support lifting mining moratorium

“We believe that uranium mining can be the catalyst for a vibrant economy locally, and a significant contribution to our nation’s energy independence,” said George Winn, a prominent cattleman and director of the Pittsylvania County Farm Bureau. “We also believe that uranium mining is compatible with other types of economic activity including agriculture, and that all the socioeconomic studies to date demonstrate that to be true.”
The group will launch a website next week where supporters can go to join and contact the group

Farmers believe property owners should be able to use their land as they see fit while at the same time affecting their neighbors as little as possible.
George Winn, who raises beef cattle in Gretna, says he supports VUI’s efforts.
“The [proposed] mine is in a very isolated portion of the county,” he said. “It’s not densely populated. I don’t see any potential adverse effects.”
He said the Midwestern businesses he has transactions with are not concerned about his beef.

Lawmakers to detail proposed mining legislation

State Sens. John Watkins and Dick Saslaw along with Delegate Jackson Miller plan to hold a news conference in Richmond on Thursday with members a new pro-uranium citizens group rooted in Pittsylvania County.
In concert with members of People for Economic Prosperity, the lawmakers plan to unveil more information about the tandem bills they are sponsoring to direct the state to write regulations for uranium mining and milling. If passed, the legislation would effectively lift the state’s 1982 stay on the industry.

Rautio said PEP has no budget and has spent no money. Capital Results put up a website for the group and Virginia Uranium is buying boxed lunches for supporters in Richmond on Thursday. Bus transportation for the trip has been provided and driven by a PEP member.
Members of the group spoke to members of the Coal and Energy Commission at Monday’s meeting, including retired Pittsylvania County farmer Buddy Mayhew and the Rev. Antonelle Myler of Shockoe Missionary Baptist Church in Java.
The group’s directors include George Winn, director of the Pittsylvania County Farm Bureau, and Wayne Ashworth, former president of the Virginia Farm Bureau
“The only stigma I see is the ones that people who are anti-uranium are trying to create,” he said.
Winn has two sons and two nephews in college. He wants the mine for them.
“All of them would like to move right back here to Gretna,” he said. “Virginia Uranium is offering them the perfect opportunity. Without that, they will all have to locate somewhere else, more than likely.”

Meetings on the setback issue are scheduled for
7 PM Thursday night (1/23) at the Ag. Center and
1 PM Monday (1/27), same location
Comments from KM:  I can see the billboard now...Welcome to Pittsylvania County, Future Home of the Safest Uranium Mine in the World Nestled in Rolling Hills of Poo."