Buckingham planning commission member raises alternative to mining ban

Published 2:47 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

DILLWYN – Instead of focusing on metallic mining, why not just ban the chemicals involved in the process? That was the question raised during Monday’s meeting of the Buckingham County Planning Commission. 

In February, Buckingham supervisors put together a proposal to eliminate metallic mining as an allowed land use across the county. But that’s not something supervisors can just approve. First, it has to go before the planning commission. Last week, the commission asked for help in defining things like mining and getting more detail about what’s actually involved in the process. 

The reason is they don’t want to accidentally ban or harm the other types of mining currently happening in the area. The biggest of those companies is the Kyanite Mining Corporation, whose president urged the commission Monday to proceed with caution. 

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“My company, as many of you know, has been based and has had 100% of its operations and employees in Buckingham for the better part of the last century,” Kyanite President Guy Dixon said. “And given that (Kyanite), I think, has played a somewhat significant and positive role in the economic development of our little corner of the world over the course of those many decades and that we have been a reasonable corporate citizen over that vast timespan, I feel that it would not only be sensible but prudent for the people considering these changes to study the issue with the diligence and care that such a significant shift in policy deserves.” 

The Dillwyn resident added that he found it hard to imagine such diligence would not at least include an examination of the long-term effects. If you eliminate metallic mining or mining in general, what would that mean for the county’s employment situation? How would it affect economic development overall? 

Focus on the chemicals, not a mining ban 

Commission member Danny Allen said for him, it makes the most sense to not focus on banning mining at all. That way you possibly avoid some political or legal battles. Instead, why not just ban the chemicals involved? 

“What we ought to do is have something that says what we’re going to do about the chemicals, so that people won’t bring chemicals into this county and make the water go bad, the land go bad,” Allen said. “If we could put that in, to me that would be a better deal. We could cut them off and not worry about the mines we already have in the county.”  

His idea received support from the rest of the commission, but one issue was raised. The problem, Planning Commission Chairman John Bickford pointed out, is that the commission doesn’t know enough about what’s used in the process to ban those items. 

“I don’t know the process for all of these metals, for extractions and processing, and what’s involved in it, chemical wise or not,” Bickford said. 

His concern in a complete ban of those chemicals involves other areas. Are these chemicals used in other industries in Buckingham County? And what happens to those industries if they get banned? It’s a case where they just need more information, Bickford said. And that will take time. 

“I would rather take time and make sure we got all the information we need to make a proper ordinance where we’re not having damage done to the existing mines in the county,” Bickford said. “We have to be really careful they don’t get swept up (in this).” 

What’s currently allowed

Currently in Buckingham County, mining is allowed in two districts. In Buckingham’s zoning, manufacturing districts are labeled as M-1 or M-2. In the M-1 districts, commercial core drilling is allowed by right. That means a company can drill without requesting a special use permit. Mining of any type is also allowed in the M-1 district by permit, which means the company comes before the Buckingham planning commission and supervisors and makes the request. In the M-2 district, mining is just allowed, with no permit needed.
Buckingham has two areas right now where that’s in effect. One is on Route 15 and the surrounding area near Dillwyn, where the Kyanite Mining Corporation is working. The second is also on Route 15, just off Bridgeport Road in the Slate Quarry area. There is no metallic mining happening in either area. But planning commission members see trouble ahead, unless the county is very specific about their new rules.
“I think this is an unbelievably complex situation,” said Planning Commission member Peter Kapuscinski. “We’ve got laws bumping up against each other, we’ve got mining in the community, there’s a definition (needed) when it comes to the kind of mining.”
That’s why Kapuscinski said he wants more information, to make sure this gets done the right way, protecting the community while also not damaging any current businesses. 

What happens next?  

The commission agreed that they need at least one work session, to better understand everything involved with a mining ban. That’s been set for March 20, with mining companies invited to come speak. Also,engineers from Virginia Tech will be there to discuss the process. The planning commission has roughly 120 days before it needs to make a recommendation to the board of supervisors.