An anti-uranium group called The Alliance plans to launch a petition today aimed at forcing the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors to ban uranium mining.
The petition will be unveiled at an educational seminar sponsored by The Alliance and Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund at Averett University.
Alliance president Gregg Vickrey of Chatham will lead the seminar, which will focus on the environmental, social and economic impact of uranium mining in the county.
Informational handouts will be available, and a question-and-answer session will follow the presentation.
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.
Three years ago, the Coles and Bowen families formed Virginia Uranium Inc. to explore the possibility of eventually mining uranium.
Virginia has had a moratorium on uranium mining since 1982, but last year the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission agreed to study the benefits and dangers of uranium.
The study, which is just getting under way, is expected to take about two years.
According to Vickrey,The Alliance was formed to wage a grassroots battle to convince localities to ban uranium mining.
The group's petition begins with: "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...."
The petition calls for supervisors to ban uranium mining within three months of receiving the petition.
If supervisors refuse, they will have rendered themselves "illegitimate" under the Virginia Constitution, the petition states.
The Alliance then plans to ask residents to elect 11 representatives to draft a constitution for the county that bans uranium mining while recognizing the right to community self-government.
County residents would be asked to ratify the constitution.
If supervisors then fail to adopt the constitution, it will "automatically become the new governing law of the county," the petition states.
"If the county supervisors refuse to adopt the new constitution, the undersigned hereby authorize that another vote be taken to elect new county supervisors, who shall possess the legal and constitutional mandate to replace the existing county supervisors," it concludes.
"This is democracy built from the ground up," said Shireen Parsons of Christiansburg, a Virginia organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and adviser and Alliance board member.
"We're asking - no, they work for us - telling them they have to ban uranium mining," said Parsons.
"This is something that requires drastic action, and this is drastic action," she said. "If we don't stop it locally, it is going to happen."
The Alliance hopes to get a majority of county residents - at least 30,000 - to sign the petition before presenting it to supervisors.
The group also plans to ask Danville and the towns of Chatham, Gretna and Hurt to adopt "chemical trespass" ordinances against uranium mining.
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.
County Administrator Dan Sleeper said the petition is misguided.
"There is no such thing as a constitution for a county," he said.
Although rare, counties can ask the General Assembly for a charter, which gives them the same authority as cities.
Residents also can recall elected officials by obtaining signatures from at least 10 percent of registered voters and petitioning for a recall vote.
The full petition reads:
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:
1. That the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors adopt an ordinance that bans uranium mining from occurring within the county, and that the ordinance be adopted within three months of the submission of this petition to the Board of Supervisors;
2. That local governments in Pittsylvania County adopt ordinances that protect residents from uranium mining, as a disincentive for the mining to occur;
3. 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 under Article 1, §2 of the Virginia Constitution, which declares that "all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people;"
4. That if the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors does not represent the majority of people in the county, that is has rendered itself illegitimate under the Virginia Constitution, and that Article 1, §3 of the Virginia Constitution provides that "a majority of the community hath an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it;"
5. That the undersigned, representing a majority of the residents of Pittsylvania County, hereby call for a vote of the residents to elect eleven people to draft a Constitution for the County of Pittsylvania that bans uranium mining while recognizing the right to community self-government. The undersigned call on the Pittsylvania County Chapter of Southside Concerned Citizens to develop and implement a democratic voting process for the election of those eleven individuals;
6. That the undersigned, representing a majority of the residents of Pittsylvania County, hereby call for a vote of the residents to ratify the finalized Constitution, and declare that the county supervisors be given the option to adopt the Constitution, and that if they fail to do so, that the County Constitution shall automatically become the new government law of the county.
If the county supervisors refuse to adopt the new constitution, the undersigned hereby authorize that another vote be taken to elect new county supervisors, who shall possess the legal and constitutional mandate to replace the existing county supervisors.