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Buckingham – There’s gold in them thar hills

The search for gold in Buckingham by Canadian-based company Aston Bay has caught the attention of both residents and county officials, who will have to decide if the business can continue its previously unbeknownst local operations.

According to Buckingham Planning and Zoning Administrator Nicci Edmondston, Aston Bay has actually been performing gold rig drilling in Buckingham since 2016 after finding a vein of gold in the county.

However, this activity of core sampling for commercial use went under the county’s radar until it was reported to the office in June 2020 after citizens began complaining of prohibited activity.

During a Sept. 21 work session between the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission, Edmonston gave officials information regarding Aston Bay’s operations.

While it first appeared the company was wrapping up its activities, that is now not the case. Edmondston explained that the company wishes to come back and continue drilling.

“They are finding gold,” she said.

Edmondston highlighted that unlike panning for gold, core sampling in the form of drilling is not permitted under the county’s current zoning ordinance. Edmondston had since informed Aston Bay the activity had to cease.

Many officials spoke excitedly about the prospecting prospects at the work session, including Planning Commission Chairman Patrick Bowe, who referenced the county’s desire to open up Buckingham to more business opportunities.

“Why would we consider not thanking them for looking for gold?” he asked. “I hope they find all they want and come in here and apply for a mining operation.”

Edmondston explained that Aston Bay would not be able to return to the county to continue pursuing this gold vein unless a public hearing was held to add a zoning text amendment to the list of special use permits in an A-1 zoning district to allow core samples for commercial use only.

A joint public hearing with the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission was scheduled to occur during the board’s Tuesday, Oct. 13, meeting, but County Administrator Rebecca Carter said the hearing had to be postponed after the Planning Commission did not recess their last meeting to reconvene on Oct. 13, meaning holding the hearing would have been illegal.

Carter said if the board and commission later choose to approve the amendment, it wouldn’t just be Aston Bay that would be able to apply for a special use permit for core sampling. The option would be open for any company.

Local activists and concerned citizens were poised and at the ready Tuesday night to let their voices be heard regarding the gold drilling, with some believing allowing for core sampling could lead to a gold rush that would see the county overrun by gold mining.

“We have heard broad opposition to Buckingham County adding a zone text amendment to allow for core drilling for commercial use in an A-1 zone,” activist group Friends of Buckingham President Chad Oba said Saturday, Oct. 17. “Putting an amendment in place to make it possible for a company that has already demonstrated non-compliance with Buckingham’s zoning is like rewarding them for being non-compliant.”

Oba said passing the ordinance could green light Aston Bay and others to go forward with open pit gold mining.

“If open pit gold mining were to proceed it would create a massive dead zone,” she added. “Residents nearby would likely be forced to relocate. In general, this type of mining is highly degrading of the soil, water and air and creates huge amounts of waste. Water tables are likely to drop, wells would be affected, and streams acidified and deadened, leading to the decline of many ecosystems in Buckingham and downstream communities.

“Heavy equipment brings noise and road deterioration. There is no such thing as reclamation with this type of mining. Mining areas are irretrievably devastated, taking hundreds of years to reclaim and restore. We need to take care of our land. We are creating a future that our children and their children will be living with.”

A new hearing has not been scheduled.