Public weighs in on gold mining in Buckingham

Published 8:59 am Monday, November 2, 2020

The Buckingham Planning Commission is looking for direction from the Board of Supervisors on how the county will proceed with permitting or prohibiting gold drilling that could lead to the establishment of a gold mine.

In September, a joint work session between the commission and the board revealed Canadian-based company Aston Bay Holdings had been performing exploratory core sampling along a potential gold vein in Buckingham.

The company operated under the county’s radar for years until officials discovered what was happening. As gold drilling/core sampling is not on the list of permitted uses in an A-1 Zoning District, Aston Bay was told to cease operations.

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But the company is finding gold in the county and has expressed interest to continue. A joint public hearing between the commission and the board to add a zoning text amendment that would allow core sampling to the list of special uses was scheduled for Oct. 13, but scheduling issues meant the meeting couldn’t occur.

But officials still need to decide how to proceed.

Many members of the public spoke at the Monday night, Oct. 26, Planning Commission meeting in order to convey their disapproval of potential mining activities, many of whom were concerned of potential environmental effects.

“This project, if allowed, will destroy the communities and much more,” citizen James Branch said. “Buckingham County does need new business, but not at the expense of destroying Buckingham County. The core sampling and eventually mines that follow will cause irreparable damage.”

“One year ago almost to the day two gentleman showed up on my property,” District 5 resident Paul Barlow said. “They had hip wader boots on, safety vests. They were Canadians. They asked me if I’d been hearing any drilling going on in the area.”

Barlow stated that the two men said a company called Aston Bay had discovered gold on the property, and the two proceeded to ask to take samples from Barlow’s creek in order to trace back the source.

Barlow said the two men, geologists, returned eight months later.

“They said that in my creek, Little Sycamore Creek, it was microscopic gold. I wasn’t going to get rich. And I asked them, I said, ‘Well, if you would have found gold on my property, what would have been the next step? Would you have sunk in a shaft?’ And they both laughed and said, ‘No, open-pit mining.”

“Have you been to Aston Bay Holding’s website?” activist group Friends of Buckingham member Heidi Berthoud asked the committee. “They essentially brag that Virginia is easy prey.”

Suzanne Jones Snoddy, a teacher at Buckingham County High School, opted for a more object-based approach by handing out chocolate chip cookies for each member of the Planning Commission to lay upon a piece of paper, stating she would provide a similar lesson that could be given to students in her classroom.

Snoddy told commission members the cookie represented the Warminster Church Road area where the search for gold is taking place. She explained the aroma of the cookie represents air pollution should a mine come to the area. The chocolate chips represent possible gold.

Snoddy then said she would instruct students to use a straw to do “core sampling” of the gold. She then challenged commission members to consider “mining” the gold out of the cookie using a toothpick while trying to maintain integrity of the land.

“Oh, by the way, is there a grease spot under your cookie?” she asked. “Probably. That’s what’s going to seep into your ground water. Now, are there any crumbs? … Well, that is your overflow into surrounding communities.”

“I am certainly concerned about the possible impact on our water, air and land, and our health as well,” Swami Dayananda, a resident of Warminster Church Road, said. “Core sampling drilling is well-known to pollute the groundwater for many, many miles.”

Dayananda thanked the committee for putting a stop to the drilling and asked members to consider forming a citizen advisory board to allow for residents to participate in future considerations and discussions.

After listening to a report from Buckingham Commonwealth’s Attorney E.M. Wright Jr., who reiterated that a change in the zoning ordinance cannot be made by the Board of Supervisors until it is referred to the Planning Commission, the commission voted unanimously to ask the board what direction it would like to go in regarding the possible continuation of drilling.

Danny Allen, the Board of Supervisors representative present at Monday’s meeting, emphasized he would like the county to invite local experts such as geologists and health department workers to the next commission meeting in order to gain further insight into how further drilling and possible mining could environmentally impact the county.