Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Anti-Mining Group Takes Stand

By John Crane

Published: April 20, 2009

A local organization plans to roll out a petition Wednesday night demanding that the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors impose a ban on uranium mining.

The petition calls for an overthrow of the county’s government if the board “does not represent the majority of the people in the county” and renders itself “illegitimate under the Virginia Constitution.”

The Alliance, a group that formed in February after splitting from Southside Concerned Citizens, will give its first anti-mining presentation at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Averett University’s student center.

Shireen Parsons, a Christiansburg-based organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, said uranium mining opponents will try to gather signatures from a majority of county residents beginning at the meeting Wednesday.

“If this community wants to protect itself, that’s what they must do,” Parsons said Wednesday.

The petition calls for the board to ban uranium mining within three months after it’s submitted to supervisors. It also demands that local governments within the county adopt ordinances, such as chemical-trespass ordinances, to protect residents from uranium mining.

Parsons and Gregg Vickrey, a founder and the chairman of the Alliance, will speak at the event about the issues surrounding uranium mining and how a community can practice self governance. Vickrey’s presentation will be similar to seminars he gave in the past under SCC illustrating mining operations around the world and how mining could affect the area.

Virginia Uranium Inc. seeks to mine and mill a 119-million-pound uranium deposit at Coles Hill about six miles northeast of Chatham. Virginia currently has a moratorium on the practice, but the Virginia Coal & Energy Commission is overseeing a study to determine whether it can be done safely in the commonwealth.

Vickrey said the presentation will be updated with information about the merger between Santoy and VUI.

County Supervisor Hank Davis, who represents the Chatham-Blairs District, declined to comment about the petition. Neither Vice Chair and Tunstall District Supervisor Tim Barber nor Chairman Coy Harville could be reached for comment by press time Monday.

Patrick Wales, VUI geologist and spokesman, said the presentation will be a retread from Vickrey’s past seminars. Ordinances like those against chemical trespass resulting from mining operations are unconstitutional in a Dillon Rule state, Wales said. The Dillon Rule means that state law supersedes local laws.

The town of Chatham discussed a possible chemical trespass ordinance, but former Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell said in an opinion last year that it would be unconstitutional.

Parsons said the Dillon Rule flies in the face of the U.S. and Virginia constitutions.

“It’s no different from rules in favor of slavery,” Parsons said.

She said opponents’ intentions are not merely to oppose mining, but to return government control to the hands of citizens.

“Our goal is not to stop uranium,” Parsons said. “Our goal is to seize local governing authority.”

The six-part petition cites the Virginia Constitution, saying that if the Board of Supervisors does not pass the mining ban, the petitioners will call for a vote to elect 11 people to draft a constitution for Pittsylvania County that bans uranium mining and “recognizes the right to community self-government.” The Pittsylvania County Chapter of Southside Concerned Citizens would implement the voting process.

Parsons said she could not say how the process would take place.

“We would have to discuss how to do this,” she said.

The petitioners, representing a majority of county citizens, would call for a vote by residents to ratify the “county constitution” and would give supervisors the choice of adopting it. If the board doesn’t, the constitution would become law anyway and petitioners authorize a special election to replace the existing county supervisors.


Excerpts from the petition that a local group plans to roll out Wednesday at Averett University’s student center:

• “WE THE PEOPLE OF PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, in order to secure local self-government, democracy, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the residents and environment of Pittsylvania County, Hereby Demand:”

• “That the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors adopt an ordinance that bans uranium mining from occurring within the County ... “

• “That if the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors fails to take action to ban the mining, the Board will have failed to represent the majority of the people within the County ...”

• “That the undersigned, representing a majority of the residents in Pittsylvania County, hereby call for a vote of the residents to elect eleven people to draft a Constitution for the County of Pittsylvania ... “

• “If the County Supervisors refuse to adopt the new Constitution, the undersigned hereby authorize that another vote be taken to elect new County Supervisors ... “

• To read the full petition, go to GoDanRiver.com and click on this story’s link. [We have been unable to find the link to the entire petition at the GoDanRiver.com website...SB]


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