Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Danville Regional Foundation pursues uranium study

While the state anticipates approval of a statewide uranium-mining study conducted by the National Re-search Council, the Danville Regional Foundation is pursuing its own separate, regional analysis of the socioeconomic impacts of uranium mining and milling.

The foundation announced Thursday its request for qualifications seeking proposals from interested firms, nonprofits and academic programs.

“DRF is considering sponsoring an independent and rigorous socioeconomic examination of the effects the proposed mine, mill, and long-term waste management upon the people and institutions, including the economy, limited to the region served by DRF,” foundation President and CEO Karl Stauber said in a statement Thursday.

The Danville Regional Foundation, created in 2005 with the assets from the sale of Danville Regional Medical Center, serves Danville and Pittsylvania County as well as Caswell County, N.C. It uses about $165 million in assets to help transform the region culturally and economically.

Virginia Uranium Inc. seeks to mine and mill a 119-million-pound uranium ore deposit at Coles Hill, about six miles northeast of Chatham. Virginia has a moratorium on uranium mining.

Mining supporters say an operation at Coles Hill would bring economic benefits to Southside and supply hundreds of jobs. Opponents believe the project would destroy the environment and threaten public health in Pittsylvania County.

Delegate Terry Kilgore, head of the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, sent a written request in August to the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, to conduct a statewide study to determine whether uranium can be mined and milled safely in the commonwealth. NRC officials say the proposed study is worth pursuing.

VUI would pay for the state study’s first part covering the technical aspects of mining and milling. The state study’s second part focusing on the socioeconomic impacts has not been determined, Kilgore said. The Virginia Coal and Energy Commission or its Uranium Mining Subcommittee may meet in November to discuss the socioeconomic portion of the state study, Kilgore said.

Kilgore expressed support for the Danville Regional Foundation’s separate plans for a regional socioeco-nomic analysis of its own.

“I think it would be good for them to go ahead and do that,” Kilgore, R-1st District, said Thursday. “That, hopefully, will answer some questions for local citizens there in the Pittsylvania County area.”

The foundation’s study will not affect the state’s efforts, Kilgore said.

“The more information and knowledge we have on this issue, the more better off we’ll be,” he said.

Stauber said during an interview Thursday the foundation’s study will be different in scope and geography from the state’s. It will be more regional than statewide, with a focus on mining and millings impacts on local citizens and institutions, he said. The study will examine three scenarios under uranium mining and milling – best reasonable, worst reasonable and reasonable — and will based on its effects on employment, wages, property taxes, property values, churches, schools, retail businesses and other institutions, Stauber said. The survey will also analyze jobs and secondary industries that may result from uranium mining and milling.

Stauber said he doesn’t know how much the study would cost or how long it would take, but the foundation aims to be the primary funding source. The study, including the entity selected to perform it, scope, work-plan outline, results and analysis, will be public via the foundation’s Web site. Stauber said the foundation wants to make sure area residents and the General Assembly have the best information about the implications of uranium mining and milling for this region.

Stauber said he is not sure whether the foundation will formally submit results to the state.

The foundation seeks firms, nonprofits or academic organizations from outside the state to perform the socioeconomic analysis.

“We’re hoping that we will get proposals from around the U.S.,” Stauber said.

The foundation will review letters of interest and qualification and will invite full proposals from a small number of candidates. Inquiries should be directed to Karl Stauber, president and CEO, Danville Regional Foundation at kstauber@danvilleregionalfoundation.org . Letters of interest are due by Dec. 1.

Stauber said it would take up to three months to narrow interested firms down to three to five and up to another three months to make its final selection. Stauber the foundation would make its funding decision in June or July at the soonest. The foundation takes no position on uranium mining, he said.

Eloise Nenon, a member of Southside Concerned Citizens, a group that opposes uranium mining, said the foundation’s plans have the potential to be a good idea. However, the study should include extensive hearings for residents and plenty of public input, Nenon said.

Jack Dunavant, head of SCC in Halifax, said he is suspicious of the motivations for any study, but if it’s truly objective and independent, he has no problems with it.

“I wish them Godspeed and good luck,” Dunavant said. “We would be interested to see what any study would find.”

Patrick Wales, VUI spokesman and geologist, said the company hopes that whoever investigates the socioeconomic aspects of uranium mining will maintain the independence and objectivity that VUI supports.


No comments: