On Tuesday, June 22, 2010, the Coal and Energy Commission's Uranium Mining Subcommittee held a public hearing to receive the public's recommendations on the scope of the socioeconomic study of uranium mining in Virginia. The meeting was held Chatham, VA, was attended by over 300 people and lasted over 3 hours. Approximately 70 people signed up to speak.
The meeting was held in a large auditorium of the Chatham High School. A local non-profit organization, the League of Individuals for the Environment (L.I.F.E.) distributed informational materials and "no-uranium" pins. Virginia Energy Independence Alliance (VEIA) was there also and distributed pro-mining materials.
Members of the press, including Danville Register & Bee, Chatham Star Tribune, Richmond Times - Dispatch, CBS/WDBJ Channel 7, NBC/WSLS Channel 10, ABC/WSET Channel 13 TV stations, also attended the meeting.
The meeting began with a significant procedural violation. Someone affiliated with Virginia Uranium Inc. (VUI) and the Virginia Energy Independence Alliance (VEIA) gained access to the sign-up sheet before it was made available to the general public and before the doors of the auditorium opened, and signed up 19 people to speak. That was done to ensure that the press that stayed at the meeting for about 1.5 hour got to hear only pro-mining arguments.
The meeting was opened by the Uranium Mining Subcommittee Chairman Del. Lee Ware (56th District). Other members of the Subcommittee present were Del. Kilgore (Chair of the VA Coal and Energy Commission, ex-officio), Del. Watkins (59th District), Del. Carrico (5th District), Senator Puckett (38th District). The Subcommittee members, Del. Onzlee Ware, Senators Frank Wagner & Watkins, who travelled to France at Virginia Uranium Inc.'s expense, did not find time to attend this public hearing.
The opening remarks were followed by presentations by Del. Merricks (16th Dist.), Senator Hurt (16th Dist.), and Del. Danny Marshall (14th Dist.) Del. Merricks said that the study needs to examine the impact on local farms, such as Motley Diary Farm, and on two prominent local institutions, Chatham Hall, a private boarding school for girls, and Hargrave Military Academy. Senator Hurt, whose father among the 31 local investors in Virginia Uranium Inc., urged the Subcommittee to consider impacts on farms, Main Street, and downstream effects of uranium mining. He also said that proper resources should be committed to the study. Del . Danny Marshall proposed that other studies should be reviewed and incorporated in the socioeconomic study, including the technical study conducted by the National Academies of Science, the Virginia Beach study and the Danville Regional Foundation socioeconomic study. Del. Danny Marshal suggested that in order to avoid inconsistencies, the findings of those studies should be incorporated in the socioeconomic study. He further stated that the study should examine the impact of uranium mining on property values, the potential of legal liabilities for contaminating the watershed downstream, including North Carolina, and the impact on the recruitment of new industries.
The presentations by the legislators were followed by a show staged by the uranium mining interests. The opening stance was presented by VEIA Chair, Ray Ganther (Areva) who urged the Subcommittee to include in the scope of the site- and region-specific study the impact of the proposed uranium mining on the goals set in Virginia Governor's statewide energy plan to increase in-state energy production. Mr. Ganther seemed to be unaware of the fact that yellowcake, the final product of the proposed mine and mill in Coles Hill, is not a fuel but a raw material that is a commodity traded on global market and used for production of nuclear weapons, nuclear power plant fuel and even isotopes for medical purposes. Production of yellowcake will have no effect on energy production within the borders of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Among the pro-mining speakers was a representative from the National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People, who spoke very passionately about problems faced by youth, especially in inner cities but said nothing substantive about the study. Next, the Subcommittee heard Jim Beard who introduced himself as a professor and geologist. Mr. Beard forgot to specify that he is only an adjunct professor. Mr. Beard touted modern day uranium mining technologies and then misspoke that "any mining will lead to a catastrophe."
Next speaker Victor Miller said that the United States nuclear industry has a great, accident-free track record. He probably never heard about Three Mile Island accident. He also carelessly suggested that uranium mining will have a positive impact on two distinguished educational institutions located very close to the proposed mining site: Chatham Hall and Hargrave Military Academy. Mr. Miller expressed confidence that the uranium mining industry will be providing technology to local schools. Mr. Miller is probably unaware that geology, mining and nuclear science are not a part of high school curriculum. Next speaker, Walter Anderson, who claimed to be a college student majoring in physics was very hard to follow because he was reading off the script prepared by someone else. The text contained no substantive comments about the scope of the study.
Next to speak was Professor Robert Bodnar from Virginia Tech who claimed to have the first hand knowledge of socioeconomic improvements around uranium mines in Peru, Chile, Nevada, and Southern Africa. Professor forgot to mention Areva's horrible track record in Niger, Africa, and contamination of Colorado river by uranium mining in Nevada. Bodnar's presentation was followed by several poorly rehearsed presentations where speakers had to consult the text because they did not really know what they were talking about. The pro-mining show concluded with a presentation by Ken Newman, a professor and geologist from Bluefield, VA, a 3.5 hour drive from Chatham, VA.
Marshall Ecker, an elected official from Pittsylvania County, suggested that the study should consider the tax burden of uranium mining and the effect on real estate values.
Kate Whitehead, Chairman, Dan River Basin Association, stated that the results of the technical study of uranium mining to be conducted by the National Academies of Science should be the basis for the socioeconomic study and that the socioeconomic study should not commence until the technical study is complete and made available to the public. In Ms. Whitehead's opinion, this is the only way to ensure that the socioeconomic study incorporates the findings of the technical study.
Carl Espy, Town Manager, Town of Halifax, also urged the Subcommittee to wait for the completion of the technical study before commencing the socioeconomic study. He stated that the completion of the socioeconomic study should not be rushed in order to present this issue to the General Assembly in the beginning of the 2012 legislative session. Mr. Espy pointed out that the technical study will be complete in Dec. 2011 and a non-technical summary of the study findings will also be distributed for the purpose of educating the general public.
Nancy Poole, Halifax County Chamber of Commerce, stated that the funds allocated for the socioeconomic study are insufficient and the Subcommittee will not be able to recruit prominent research institutions to undertake the study, which will have a negative impact on the overall quality of the study.
2 residents from the Sheba community urged the Subcommittee to examine socioeconomic impacts and costs under the worst-case scenario.
Ann Veal, a Chatham resident, asked the Subcommittee to include in the study the costs to taxpayers of containing uranium mining tailings after the mine is decommissioned and the title is passed to the Commonwealth. She also asked the Subcommittee to consider who will be paying for waste monitoring during the time when mining and milling get temporarily suspended due to low uranium prices on global markets.
Del. James Edmonds (60th Dist.) expressed his opposition to uranium mining and asked the Subcommittee to examine health impacts of uranium mining and the effect on the crime rate, as well as impacts on communities located downstream from the mining site.
George Stanhope suggested that the study should consider the risks associated with weather and climatic factors. He also pointed out that existing federal regulations of uranium mining are lacking. He also asked to consider the impact on property values.
Jack Dunavant, Chairman of Southside Concerned Citizens group, proposed that the study should examine the area within 50 miles of the proposed mining site and the effect on water supply. He also urged the Subcommittee to incorporate in the socioeconomic study the findings of all other studies of uranium mining and to examine impacts on watershed and aquifers, and farmlands, as well as the community’s health.
Deborah Lovelace, a Gretna resident, asked the Subcommittee to examine impacts of uranium mining on agriculture, fishing, hunting and recreation.
Olga Kolotushkina, a Leesville Lake part-time resident, asked the Subcommittee to include in the scope of the study Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Lake and the surrounding counties and to consider impacts on the lakes’ water level, real estate prices, property values, future real estate development, as well as tourist industry.
Phillip Lovelace, a cattle farmer from Gretna, spoke on the need to perform the hydrology study before proceeding with uranium mining. He also stated that the funds allocated for the study are insufficient, considering the importance of the issue and the area that the study will cover. He calculated the study funds to be less than $1 per person.
George Stuart asked the Subcommittee to consider the impact on life style, and whether the communities will undergo attrition as a result of uranium mining.
A resident from the Sheba community asked to consider the effect on the intra- and intercommunity relations. She also wanted the Subcommittee to examine a possible scenario of low uranium prices when mining becomes unprofitable and the company temporarily withdraws leaving behind uranium mining tailings that need to be constantly monitored.
Robert from Danville, asked the Subcommittee to examine impacts on agriculture and to consider various scenarios under different weather conditions.
Stan Goldsmith, Campbell County Supervisor, requested, on behalf of the Campbell County Board of Supervisors, to include in the scope of the study the southern part of Campbell County, including Altavista, Brookneal and Leesville Lake. He also asked the Subcommittee to examine real and perceived impacts on real estate values, as well as on recreation and fishing on Staunton River.
Deb Dix spoke on the need to conduct the hydrology study first because according to the 1999 geological survey the Coles Hill site has a fractured water table, which means that groundwater can move in unpredictable directions, which will make groundwater contamination more likely. She also posed an interesting question for the study – how uranium mining will impact health and well-being of high risk groups, such as children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and the elderly. Ms. Dix also asked the Subcommittee to examine how many local people would be actually hired to work at the mine and mill.
Anne Cockrell, registered nurse, stated that more information about the proposed uranium mining project is needed in order to successfully conduct the study. She also said that the study should be statewide because as soon as the moratorium is lifted, there will be a sharp increase in uranium mining stakes. She also urged the Subcommittee to consider taxpayers costs associated with the clean-up of the site and monitoring it for thousands of years.
Todd Benson, Piedmont Environmental Council, suggested that the study should consider the cyclical nature of uranium mining industry. He also urged the Subcommittee to make the study statewide reminding that there are uranium mining leases in Orange, Madison, Fauquier and Culpeper counties that will be reactivated as soon as the moratorium is lifted.
Susan, a realtor from Danville, suggested that the study should take into account socioeconomic impacts of uranium mining and milling experienced by other communities in the U.S. She also asked the Subcommittee to examine whether uranium mining will result in attrition of neighboring communities and crime rate increase.
Garry Thomas, an agriculture teacher, urged the Subcommittee to consider the effect on property values in the event of tailings overspill and/or seepage and the resulting losses in tax revenues.
A senior attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), criticized the preliminary scope of the study for excess focus on expected economic benefits and disregard of adverse economic costs. According to SELC, the study also overlooks regulatory costs associated with the need to establish a new agency that would regulate and enforce regulations for the uranium mining industry and additional costs of additional uranium mining monitoring responsibilities for the existing agencies. SELC representative also said that the study needs to examine the costs of the worst-case scenario, including the costs associated with contingency planning and disaster management, should the disaster occur. While the latter costs might never be incurred, the former are unavoidable.
Joe Spence, radiologist, Danville, urged the Subcommittee to examine the effect of uranium mining on the population’s health and to consider the experience, negative and positive, of other communities in the U.S. where uranium has been mined.
Eloise Nennon, Chatham, asked the Subcommittee to consider a number of lost jobs as a result of mining, the effect on tourism and the costs of long-term containment of uranium mining tailings and the effect on the population’s health.
Gary Fountain, Rector, Chatham Hall pleaded with the Subcommittee to conduct market analysis of the effect of uranium mining on the national and international image of the school. He said that uranium mining will always be perceived by parents of prospective students as posing a danger to their children’s health.
Katherine Mull, Dan River Basin Association, stated that the study should consider whether the perceived economic benefits are sustainable long term and should determine the costs accrued over the mining period and the costs of long-term storage of tailings. Ms. Mull also suggested that the study should examine impacts of perceived risks on investment and drinking water marketability.
Tommy Motley, Diary Farmer, expressed a concern that radioactive dust may end up in the cows’ feed and their milk and pointed out that the testing standards for milk products are very stringent and will likely detect even insignificant amount of chemical contamination. He thus suggested that the study should consider the impacts on agriculture, farmers, and the marketability of agricultural products.
Jake Calhoun, Pittsylvania County Farm Bureau, stated that his organization represents 1000 farmers and their families that bring $100 million in net tax revenues to the County. He suggested that the study must examine how the safety of agricultural products will be perceived by dairy products processors and vendors and how that would affect the marketability of agricultural products to processors and end users.
A self-employed tourist guide from Danville recommended that the study should examine the effect of uranium mining on tourism and all tourism-related businesses.
Local citizens also recommended considering the effect on recruitment of new businesses, lifestyle, viewshed, and the community fabric.
A registered nurse from Halifax suggested that the study should examine the effect on local businesses, especially restaurants that use local produce which might be perceived as contaminated. She also urged the Subcommittee to consider the impact on real estate values in riverfront communities on Banister River and the population’s health and the costs associated with damages to health.
Andrew Lester recommended that the study consider the impact on the recruitment of new businesses and the long-term costs associated with containing the tailings and maintaining the site when the company temporarily suspends operations due to low uranium prices. Mr. Lester also said that the benefits of nuclear energy should not be a part of the study of socioeconomic impacts of uranium mining as it is irrelevant for the determination of socioeconomic impacts.
Frank Fox, Danville-Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce, asked to consider the effect on recruitment and retention of businesses, especially physicians. He also pointed out that more information is needed about the proposed mining and milling project to examine its socioeconomic impacts on the community. In Mr. Fox’s opinion, the study should have three tiers: “site-specific” within 25 mile radius, “region-specific” within 50 mile radius and state-wide.
Karen Maute, Danville, seconded Mr. Fox’s recommendations and suggested that a 3 tiered socio-economic study should be required for each proposed mine in the state: site-specific (within a 25 mile radius), regional specific (within a 50 mile radius) and a state socio-economic impact study . Ms. Maute reasoned that each mine site will impact its location in a unique manner.
A Pittsylvania County Supervisor stated that the study should establish a benchmark before the mining begins in order to estimate the damages afterwards. A benchmark will reflect the currently existing water quality and quantity, number of cancers, still births and birth defects and will be used to determine if there have been any changes after uranium mining and milling commences.
An elementary school teacher from Halifax spoke on social justice. She said that the study process would have been different if a uranium mine was proposed for localities close to Charlottesville, Middleburg or Fredericksburg.
Patrick Wales, VUI, attempted to cheer the audience by promising that 90% of positions required to staff the mine and mill will be filled with locals.
Disclaimer: these unofficial minutes of the June 22, 2010 public hearing on the scope of the socioeconomic study of uranium mining in Commonwealth of Virginia are based on the notes taken by a citizen who attended the meeting. There was no court reporter present at the meeting. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the summaries of the presentations; however, these unofficial minutes do not represent a complete record of the speeches, addresses, and discussions that took place during the meeting. Please send your corrections and suggestions to uraniumfreeVA@gmail.com.