Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NAACP, Public Concerned About Well Testing Near Uranium Deposit, Virginia Uranium Inc. Voluntarily Tested 80 Wells

In the face of the discovery of well water contamination possibly (probably?) caused by drilling at Coles Hill, Walter Coles' perennial statement of not wanting to harm his neighbors now seems to have changed somewhat. Notice that in this article he's quoted as saying "We've always said we wouldn't support it unless it's fairly clear health and safety can be protected,' he said." Hunh?? Fairly clear?!? Whoa! "Fairly clear" simply is not acceptable! I think Mr. Coles just publicly jumped the shark. He just stated publicly that the health and safety of those who could be affected by mining Coles Hill is actually a non-issue!

Folks, it's time for VUI to pay for testing everyone's water from near the mine site to the Atlantic Ocean. It's also time to demand that VUI make all of the test results public, starting with the results it already has. The testing agencies assign ID numbers to the tests they perform...there would be no breach of home-owners' privacy in releasing the results. If the results are not released ASAP, then it's definitely time for torches and pitch-forks! - SB

By TIM DAVIS/Star-Tribune Editor
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Concerns about well testing around the Coles Hill uranium deposit put county leaders on the hot seat at a meeting sponsored by the Pittsylvania County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Thursday night [March 12] in Chatham.

NAACP president Willie Fitzgerald described the event as an "open meeting" to get information from members of the county's Board of Supervisors.

Chairman Coy Harville and Banister District Supervisor William Pritchett, the board's only minority member, attended the 90-minute meeting along with about 35 NAACP members and other concerned residents.

"I know there have been a lot of meetings pro and con," said Fitzgerald. "We want to hear from our governing body."

The NAACP president said some minorities have been reluctant to speak out against uranium mining because they are afraid of losing public assistance, like food stamps.

Fitzgerald also raised concerns about well testing around Coles Hill, which is about six miles northeast of Chatham.

He said blacks near the uranium deposit want to know why their wells haven't been tested.

Virginia Uranium Inc. founder and chairman Walter Coles and Henry Hurt, an investor and spokesman for the company, were at Thursday night's meeting.

In a statement, the company said it was required to collect and test water samples at four ponds as well four residential wells as part of its exploratory drilling permit from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy in 2007.

It also was required to monitor 15 locations in surrounding creeks and tributaries for heavy metals.

Although not required by the permit, Virginia Uranium sought permission to test wells at homes within about a mile of the site to determine the general water quality in the vicinity of Coles Hill.

"This was done informally by knocking on doors, and in cases where people heard what was going on and requested that their water be tested, VUI did so if the residence was in the immediate area," the company said.

More than 80 wells were voluntarily tested. There are about 200 wells within a mile of the uranium deposit.

Leroy Jones, who lives less than a mile from Coles Hill, said his well wasn't tested.

"I want to know why these black families' wells haven't been tested," he said.

Not everyone's well was tested, said Coles, but Virginia Uranium sampled wells at homes owned by both whites and blacks.

Coles promised to test Jones' well.

Samples were taken by Dewberry, a Danville engineering firm, and tested by a certified environmental lab for a variety of things, including uranium and lead.

Hurt said Virginia Uranium could not release the test results to the public because of privacy issues.

However, results were provided to homeowners, some of whom were at Thursday night's meeting.

Deborah Lovelace brought two jugs of water to the meting, including one from a well with high levels of lead.

"This well was fine before the drilling started," she said. "I wonder how many other people are in that same situation?"

The water came from Allen Gross's well on Motley Road, about a mile from Coles Hill.

Gross said when the first test was done in 2007 the lead in his well water was 2.8. When the last test was done late last year, it had risen to 17.9. The maximum allowed for drinking water is 15.

Gross has been drinking bottled water since January.

Larry Ford believes water testing around the uranium deposit should be more extensive.

"I believe all the wells in that area should be tested to set a base line," he said.

Anderson Jones agreed.

"Everything should be stopped until they give us some answers," Jones said.

Harville said the county can't afford to test every well, but promised to ask the health department to get involved.

The chairman said supervisors are waiting on an "independent, science-driven study" and reminded residents that Virginia's 30-year moratorium on uranium mining is still in place.

"That is the law we have now," Harville said. "Uranium can't be mined."

The Virginia Coal and Energy Commission agreed late last year to study the dangers and benefits of uranium mining.

A special subcommittee will meet next Tuesday in Richmond to define the scope of the proposed study, which is expected to take about two years.

"My position is let this go forward and see what the commission does," said Harville. "It's time to let the subcommittee go ahead with the study."

Even if the commission comes back with a favorable report, Harville said uranium mining will involve a lengthy permitting process and public hearings.

"There are a lot of people against it and a lot for it. A lot are neutral," said Harville.

Ultimately, said the chairman, supervisors will listen to the "will of the people."

"None of us want anything done detrimental to the health of this county," said Harville, "but until we have an independent, scientific study, a lot of these questions can't be answered."

Pritchett said he hopes the study will go forward so everyone can make an informed decision.

"I haven't made up my mind either way, but if it is harmful I am totally against it," he said.

Residents said the county should take a stand against uranium mining.

"Why do we have to wait for a study?" said Georgie Stuart of Chatham. "The members of the subcommittee don't live here. They don't drink our water. They don't live in our homes. Why can't we stand up and say we don't want it?"

Deborah Dix of Blairs said the county doesn't need to wait for the commission to say whether it's safe or harmful to mine uranium.

"It's your responsibility to stop it," said Dix. "We need to ban uranium mining. This is greed and pride. They do not care about people. They only care about money."

Coles said Virginia Uranium won't do anything that will harm the health and safety of the region.

"We've always said we wouldn't support it unless it's fairly clear health and safety can be protected," he said. "If this study comes back saying it can't be done, then that's it."

Deborah Lovelace is trying to get in touch with anyone whose wells have been tested by Virginia Uranium. She can be contacted at 1428 Ben Annie Road, Gretna, Va. 24557. Her home telephone number is 656-2046 and her cell is 841-3736. Her email address is

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