A new anti-uranium group called The Alliance hopes to stop uranium mining at the grassroots, local level.
The Alliance was formed by Gregg Vickrey and about a dozen others, and recently held an organizational meeting at Vickrey's home on North Main Street in Chatham.
Vickrey is chairman of the new group, Andrew Lester of Chatham is vice chairman, and Vickrey's wife, Barb, is secretary-treasurer.
Vickrey previously served as chairman of the Chatham-Pittsylvania County Chapter of Southside Concerned Citizens, which was formed 30 years ago when the prospect of uranium mining first surfaced in the county.
The Coles Hill deposit, about six miles northeast of Chatham, is one of the largest uranium deposits in the United States and is worth between $8 billion and $10 billion.
Vickrey said Southside Concerned Citizens is focused more on the state legislature, which has the power to lift Virginia's moratorium on uranium mining.
"They are a fine group," he said. "But they stop with education. We take it a step further by encouraging people to actively participate in local government."
Vickrey believes The Alliance can be effective in convincing local officials to strengthen and enforce zoning and hazardous waste laws.
The group's ultimate aim is to convince localities to ban uranium mining.
"We're really a local rights-based organization," he said. "We're not an environmental group. We educate people on what the problem is and then we offer solutions."
Vickrey, a former manager of Piedmont Mall in Danville, recently retired because of heart problems. He has lived in Chatham about 13 years and is dead against uranium mining.
"We're anti-nuclear. We don't want to see uranium mining and milling anywhere. It kills people," he said.
"We feel like there are other technologies that are less expensive and are a lot cleaner and won't kill people."
Shireen Parsons, a Virginia organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, is an adviser and Alliance board member.
Based in Pennsylvania, the Community Environmental Defense Fund has been successful in getting more than 125 communities to pass ordinances against a variety of "corporate assaults," including the spreading of sewage sludge.
"Our primary tool is local law making," said Parsons. "We tell people what their rights are and assist communities in seizing and wielding their inherent government authority."
Last year, Halifax became the first town in Virginia to adopt a chemical trespass ordinance aimed at uranium mining.
Chatham considered a similar ordinance, but abandoned the idea following an attorney general's opinion that the law is unconstitutional.
Both Vickrey and Parsons are convinced that uranium opponents are not going to win at the state level.
"What we hope to do is to help people understand that they have the power to stop it," Vickrey said. "We need ordinances, not resolutions."
An Alliance membership form and calendar of events are available on the group's Web site at thealliance123.blogspot.com.
Founding members can join for a one-time fee of $25 through Memorial Day. After May 25, the fee will be $25 a year.
The group is applying for tax-exempt status, and Vickrey said dues will be used to "strictly promote the cause."
The Alliance offers free, educational seminars on the dangers and perils of uranium mining.
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