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Grass roots organizers fight plans to mine for gold in Buckingham County

Opponents of mining for gold
Friends of Buckingham
Heidi Dhivya Berthoud, Mindy Zlotnick and Beth Sherk are fighting plans to mine gold in Buckingham County.

Before prospectors found gold in California, many of them were digging here in Virginia.

“This was front and center for gold mining back in the 1800’s and in Buckingham alone there are over 70 abandoned mines all full of mercury,” says community organizer Heidi Dhivya Berthoud.

She explains that mercury or cyanide must be used to process gold – posing the risk of polluting the James River, and just digging out the ore could be hazardous to area residents.

“Once you start digging into the earth you encounter naturally-occurring heavy metals and radioactive material – exposing it to the air, to the water and you’re drawing down the water table for miles around. It is a huge problem," Berthoud says.

So she and Mindy Zlotnick helped organize a campaign to prevent mining for metals in their county.

“We started going door to door, and people didn’t open their doors, so we went to gas stations, and we stood there while people pumped their gas and talked to them, and most of the people we talked to knew nothing about potential gold mining in Buckingham,” Zlotnick says.

“They didn’t know about it, and they were also appalled,” Berthoud adds.

The Virginia Community Rights Network gathered nearly 900 signatures in opposition to mining metals and sponsored a play to educate the public. The group will also host a meeting at the Union Grove Baptist Church in Buckingham County this Saturday at 2:45. An executive with the drilling company hoping to find gold in Buckingham was not available for interview this week but promised to speak with RadioIQ at a later date.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief