As North Carolinians we all are concerned about the problem of water pollution. It comes from non-point sources such as the fertilizer that’s placed on lawns, golf courses and on course agricultural fields. Sometimes these sources of water pollution are a little hard to point the accusing finger at.
On the other hand we have the very easily defined point source kind of water pollution that most everyone likes to point the finger at and scream bloody murder at our government that allows such things to happen.
Things get really complicated when the source of water pollution (or threat thereof) comes from out of state. North Carolina is currently facing such a threat in the form of radioactive waste from a proposed uranium mine in Pennsylvania County near Danville, Virginia.
We haven’t seen any radioactive uranium floating downstream into our state just yet. In fact there isn’t uranium mine there yet because the Legislature in the State of Virginia voted to place a moratorium on the proposed mine some years ago. A mining Company has purchased the land for the mine and the mining interest can’t do a thing with their land until the Virginia Legislature lifts the ban on the mine and gives the company the go-ahead to start mining.
Opponents of lifting the Virginia ban are very fearful that, as the uranium ore is processed in Pennsylvania County, the radioactive waste that’s left after the purified uranium is extracted will leach out and enter the waterways of the state of Virginia. This may look serious enough but things begin to look a lot more complicated when you consider that these particular Virginia waterways are part of the famed Roanoke River basin and, should the radioactive waste enter the Roanoke River (after passing through several Virginia Lakes) we could have a major problem on a lot of very sensitive ecological areas along North Carolinas section of the Roanoke River.
Most anglers will immediately think about the welfare of our striped bass, the shad and numerous very important sport fish. It’s taken years to bring our striped bass populations to the state that they are now considered to be “fully recovered” and fishermen from across the East Coast like to see things stay that way.
Various ecologically sensitive areas such as the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge, the Nature Conservative lands, North Carolina public hunting areas and a host of other areas have a strong foothold in the lower Roanoke River Delta and groups such as the Roanoke River Partners have a lot of concerns about anything that might degrade the quality of the water that flows into our state from any source.
With the Virginia Legislature considering lifting the ban on uranium mining in their state, the folks of both North Carolina and Virginia that are concerned about the possible ill effects o nuclear waste on the environment have formed groups that are very effectively lobbying to have the Virginia Legislature keep the uranium ban in effect until further studies can guaranty these concerned citizens that they will see no ill effects from the radioactive waste.
One group that has spoken out strongly against the lifting of the ban on mining uranium in Virginia is the nationally recognized American Rivers organization (AmericanRivers.org). They’ve just rated the Roanoke River in both Virginia and North Carolina as the third most endangered river in America listing uranium mining as the chief threat to clean water and public health.
An organization called Keep the Ban Coalition has launched a statewide effort to keep the existing ban on uranium mining in Virginia.
Representatives on the coalition include the NAACP, Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center and numerous activists from across Southside Virginia. The Keep the Ban Coalition said Thursday it has the support of 41 localities and organizations that have joined the growing statewide movement urging the Virginia legislature to resist an industry push to lift the state's ban on uranium mining as early as next year.
Included among supporters are the Halifax County (VA) Chamber of Commerce and Southside Concerned Citizens. Other civic groups range from the Medical Society of Virginia to the Reston-based National Wildlife Federation, whose membership passed a national resolution of support in April
One entity that will have a lot of weight with the Virginia Legislature over the uranium mining question is the Roanoke River Basin Bi-State Commission. This Commission is responsible of overseeing anything that concerns about anything that involves the Roanoke River basin, its waterways and the equitable distribution of the natural resources to each of the two states that are concerned.
The group is composed of equal numbers of state Representatives and Senators and some interested private individuals from both states. Each state’s representatives on the commission have an advisory board that can serve to study problems and report their findings to each state’s commissioners. The Roanoke River Basin Bi-State Commission meets (alternating states with meeting sites and electing officers in the group on a rotating basis) frequently when questions as serious as lifting the uranium mining moratorium is involved because both states are concerned.
Last week the Roanoke River Basin Bi-State Commission met on the campus of the Halifax County Community College in Weldon North Carolina and faced-up to the uranium mining moratorium issue.
A quorum of the Commissioners, backed by members of the Advisory Board, faced an audience of about fifty citizens and groups who voiced their ideas on the issue. No loud voices were heard and the meeting was very orderly. Still the overwhelming objections to lifting the ban were in the majority.
Statements from residents of Floyd County, Virginia were concerned about the proposed mine’s location in the flood plain of their county. Other opponents of the mine had found that a nuclear regulatory agency had recently stated that we (the U.S.) had an adequate supply of refined uranium on hand to last another 40 or 50 years so why do we need to allow the mining of uranium in Virginia. Of course nearly everyone that voiced their opinion felt that Virginia should keep the ban on uranium mining in effect in their state.
A surprise to the proponents of the uranium mining in Virginia came when a representative from the prestigious Duke University Law School offered the services of their research teams on a Pro-Bono (free of charge) basis to help the Commissioners and their recommendations to the full legislature of Virginia when they do make a decision lo lifting the ban on the uranium mining.
After listening to the various voices from the audience the Commissioners and Advisory board members discussed the issue and after a few minutes the new Chairperson of the Roanoke River Basin Bi-State Commission, Edith Warren (N.C. Representative from Pitt and Warren Counties) called for a vote and the Commissioners voted to advise the Virginia Legislature to keep the moratorium on uranium mining in effect until the year 2013.
The Virginia Legislature is not bound to accept the recommendations of the Roanoke River Basin Bi-State Commission so there is still some question of whether or not the uranium mining will represent a clear threat to the environment. If the Legislature does extend the mining ban until 2013 as recommended it will allow more time for in-depth studies on the issue. Many at meeting last week felt that that is the best they can hope for at this time.