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Gold mining bill passes Senate

A bill calling for the study of commercial gold mining and the impacts of mining operations on watersheds and communities passed the Virginia House last week with several key amendments from its earlier passage in the Senate.

The Senate amendments included removing from the bill a temporary moratorium on the issuance of certain commercial gold mining permits. The legislation, known as House Bill 2213 (HB 2213), passed the Senate by a 23-16 vote Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Friends of Buckingham issued a press release Wednesday, Feb. 17, commending the passage of HB 2213 by the Senate.

As the community advocacy group stated in the release, it has strongly advocated for the bill, which was developed in response to the revelation that a Canadian-based mineral exploration and development company, Aston Bay Holdings, had been performing exploratory drilling for gold for four years in Buckingham County without the knowledge of the local community until relatively recently.

Chad Oba

“We are thankful that the Senate acknowledges how crucial a study is on commercial gold mining in Virginia, especially since commercial gold mining hasn’t been seen in the commonwealth since the 1940s,” Friends of Buckingham President Chad Oba said in the release. “Having undergone the threat of environmental injustice from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, we know firsthand the need for evaluating the impacts of toxic industries — in this case gold mining, which is the latest to target Buckingham County and could impact communities adjacent to and downstream of the gold/pyrite belt that spans across Virginia.

“We will be following the study closely and are ready to pursue whatever is necessary to ensure we are heard and protected.”

The release also indicated the group was disappointed the temporary gold mining moratorium was dropped. Oba echoed that disappointment.

“I think that (the temporary moratorium) was a reasonable thing to do until these studies are complete,” she said during a Monday, Feb. 22, interview.

She said it is quite obvious there are violations around gold mines everywhere.

“Everywhere there’s a gold mine in the world, there’s numerous violations.” she said. “The dams around them breach and leak, the things that are brought up during the process of the mining, the digging, the tillings are releasing arsenic and all kinds of horrible things into the system …”

She described the process of gold mining as a deadly one.

“I think it’s reasonable to really ask that our regulatory agencies take a very close look at all the impacts to resources and to land use,” she said.

She highlighted people who live in the area where Aston Bay has done the exploratory drilling, noting some of them have small businesses — like raising and selling vegetables — that will be negatively affected.

“You have to think about the people too,” she said. “All that glitters is not gold. Sometimes the gold is your community and the people you live with and resources you have.”

State Sen. Mark Peake, who represents Virginia’s 22nd District, voted against HB 2213 even with its amendments.

Mark Peake

“I did not support the original bill which included a moratorium on gold mining,” he said in an email Monday. “The amended bill did not include a moratorium, but I did not support the delegate’s effort to bring a bill that in reality only affected a jurisdiction she does not represent. I believe we need to leave the issue to the representatives who are closest to the people. That is the Board of Supervisors in this case.”

The delegate Peake was referring to was Del. Elizabeth R. Guzman, a representative of Virginia’s 31st District, who was the bill’s chief patron. Guzman represents Prince William and Faquier counties.

Del. C. Matthew Fariss, who represents Virginia’s 59th District, which includes Buckingham, voted against HB 2213 when it was in the House. However, when it came back from the Senate with the amendments, he voted for it, making the vote final 56-43.

“I am eager to see a study done so that we can learn more about the gold mining process as it appears it could be viable in Virginia,” he said in an email. “There are presently several stops in place in the current permitting process along with regulations from the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Department of Environmental Quality in addition to the current zoning laws that are in effect right now.”

HB 2213 is now awaiting funding through budgeting and for Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature.