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Virginia lawmakers may weigh what to do about precious metal mining next session

Steve Helber
In this Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 photo, Virginia Uranium Inc. project manager Patrick Wales operates a Geiger counter in a hole next to the road near a uranium deposit on the Coles Hill Farm in Chatham, Va.

Members of the General Assembly are getting ready for another session, and one of the issues on the agenda this year is what to do about the potential mining of precious metals.

Virginia is sitting on one of the largest uranium deposits in the country. Plus, the recent interest in an old gold deposit in Buckingham County is reopening old discussions about commercial mining operations in Virginia. Buckingham County Supervisor Jordan Miles says he's hearing from his constituents that they do not want a commercial gold mining operation in their neighborhood.

"Residents in that community understandably fear their wells are going to be poisoned with cyanide," says Miles. "Their air, they’re going to see pollution, they're going to hear noise and there are lots of concerns around health and lifestyle."

Next year, lawmakers may be considering a ban on gold mining in Virginia. It would be similar to the longstanding ban on uranium mining in Virginia, which dates back to the early 1980’s. Mark Sabath at the Southern Environmental Law Center says lawmakers should be really careful about what kind of mining they allow.

"They should be listening to the people of Virginia and their concerns about such a dangerous practice in terms of risks to the people who live near the mines," explains Sabath. "Risks to the people who work in the mines and then long-term risks to groundwater, surface waters and land all around the Commonwealth if these kind of practices were permitted."

Various business interests have been trying to capitalize on that uranium deposit for years. So far, though, the 40-year ban is still in place.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Updated: November 18, 2022 at 11:47 AM EST
Editor's Note: The Southern Environmental Law Center is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.
Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.