Letter to the Editor: Keeping the status quo is a bad idea
Published 6:07 pm Friday, May 5, 2023
On Wednesday, April 19, Heidi Dhivya Berthoud presented, as requested, to the Buckingham Planning Commission (PC) an excellent summary of the State Study on the impacts of gold mining in Virginia. The PC then talked about how they should first see what they already have in the zoning code and how keeping the status quo of the Special Use Permit (SUP) would give them a lot to work with. This is what the local mining companies suggested at the last PC work session, which concerns me. The mining companies do not want change! Keep it the way it is. We’re good!
I had thought, since the Supervisors’ unanimous decision to ban metallic mining was made on the back of common knowledge of the harms of this type of mining and the state study about the potential impacts of gold mining, that it would be unnecessary to review that material for the PC. The work session on 4/19 seems to prove this wrong.
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It was noted in the discussion on 4/19 that a company would need a federal and state license before beginning work. It sounded like they thought those permits would provide some safety for us. But I know from the state study that the state does not have adequate regulations in place (or capacity to enforce them) that would provide protection. Updating these regulations is strongly recommended by the study.
The study also makes clear that “A robust regulatory framework and modern best practices can significantly reduce many of the impacts associated with gold mining, but the risk of adverse impacts cannot be completely eliminated.”
I know that with the existing zoning code, mining is allowed by right in M2 [no local permit is required], and in A1 and M1 it is allowed with an SUP. The SUP is the doorway the companies have to go through before going on to the state and the federal permitting process. If Buckingham County gave a company the green light with an SUP, the state would assume the county wanted the industry and they, in turn, would give the state permits. It becomes a circular argument. This happened with the Buckingham Compressor Station for the ACP, so I know how easily it could happen again.
Virginia Code 15.2-2280 gives local municipalities permission to regulate mining in their area. People in the county and the Supervisors do not want metallic mining. It seems to me that the PC has been overly influenced by the 2 hour testimony that they heard from the local mining industries. The state study and its results were not acknowledged by the PC or the local mining companies in these discussions. And after a presentation about the state study, the PC discussion reverted to the SUP, the recommendation by the mining industry.
There is a popular agreement to ban metallic mining in Buckingham County. The solutions are not easy but I don’t think that tweaking existing code is the answer because metallic mining could still be permitted. I want the stronger protections the rights-based ordinance would provide.