(Gregg Vickrey and Shireen Parsons)
By John Crane
Published: April 22, 2009
About 40 people got a wake-up call Wednesday night urging them to seize their right to self-government and make their representatives put a stop to corporate assaults on their communities.
The Alliance, a local rights group opposing uranium mining in Pittsylvania County, and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund gave that presentation at Averett University’s student center on the devastation they say uranium mining and milling would inflict on Pittsylvania County. They also strongly encouraged attendees to act now and make sure their elected officials protect their health and safety from environmentally damaging activities.
The event included a mixture of Averett students and local residents.
Gregg Vickrey, a founder and chairman of The Alliance, outlined the history of uranium mining speculation in Pittsylvania County, starting when Marline Uranium wanted to mine and mill uranium deposits in Pittsylvania and Orange counties in the early 1980s but abandoned the idea when the price of uranium dropped from $40 a pound to $9.
In 2007, the price climbed to $135 a pound.
Today, Virginia Uranium Inc. seeks to mine and mill a 119-million pound uranium deposit at Coles Hill, about six miles northeast of Chatham. Virginia has a moratorium on uranium mining. The Virginia Coal & Energy Commission is overseeing a study to determine whether mining and milling can be done safely in the commonwealth.
Patrick Wales, geologist and spokesman for VUI, said during a telephone interview Wednesday night that the company doesn’t want to get involved in a debate with a group that’s talking about overthrowing the county government, a reference to a petition by the two groups.
Vickrey said during his presentation that a mine at Coles Hill would be about 55 blocks wide, cover 110 acres, and be a block and a half deep. Vickrey also showed photos taken on a road near Coles Hill after heavy rains that showed water along the road and the side of the road. He questioned how rainwater would be contained and said it would seep through tailing piles and contaminate water sources.
Shireen Parsons, Virginia community organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, said during her presentation that uranium mining in the county is a “corporate assault.” She said uranium mining has never been done safely anywhere. Once mining takes place, everything within a 30-mile radius of Coles Hill would be contaminated, or a “dead zone,” Parsons said.
If VUI’s plans at Coles Hill are realized, a few fortunate property owners will be bought out and other families will have to walk away from their homes, with those left behind forced to deal with the health hazards of uranium mining, Parsons said. Residents must insist that their local representatives pass ordinances, such as a chemical-trespass ordinance, to protect their community from corporate assaults that would damage the air, water, land and the public health, she said.
“You cannot trust the government to save you,” Parsons said. “You have to save yourselves.”
Southside Virginia, in government and corporate language, is a sacrifice zone, Parsons said. The area has low income and education levels and a high minority population. Corporations are allowed to come to such places and engage in practices they can’t do in other areas, she claimed.
“You’re blessed with this beautiful place, but it’s a sacrifice zone,” Parsons said.