BY MARY BETH JACKSON
The mayor of Williamston, N.C., Tommy Roberson, has sent a letter to the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors in deep concern about how his area would be impacted if a uranium mine is allowed to be placed in Chatham. His county commissioners have already sent a letter to the Pittsylvania supervisors in support of the ban.
“It’s a big deal, and most people in eastern North Carolina haven’t awakened to what could happen to us,” Roberson told the Danville Register & Bee on Friday.
Roberson wrote that phosphate mining in eastern North Carolina has already damaged his town’s water availability, despite promises to the contrary.
“Today, our water table has been drawn down severely by that activity and the water level is so low that the state has mandated we reduce our intake from that aquifer by 75 percent,” he wrote. “That has left us no recourse but to build a new regional Surface Water Treatment Plant on the Roanoke River to supply current and future water needs for our community and surrounding area.”
The price tag on that project is $27 million, with another $1 million going to modify its delivery system.
“These costs are being paid for by the citizens in an area that has the dubious distinction of being the fourth poorest area in the United States,” Roberson wrote, noting the area must completely rely on the Roanoke River for drinking water and has no other options.
He told the Register & Bee that he is also concerned about the ecotourism efforts in his region, which produces oysters and shrimp.
“I can’t even imagine what part of the state tourism comes from that estuary area,” he said.
Roberson fears that any catastrophe resulting from uranium mining and milling will not only leave them with no drinking water, but kill off a growing ecotourism industry giving hope to their area, which has been labeled “economically stressed.” Furthermore, he said, the coastal ecosystem needs to be protected.
“It (the Roanoke River) provides 70 percent of the water in our sound,” he said. “That’s the complete estuary program in the eastern part of our state.”
He also fears the General Assembly will punt the issue back to Pittsylvania County and that local authorities will ultimately decide whether the mine happens or not.
“If the state of Virginia is going to shift the burden to them, then we need to be in communication with them,” he said.
Writing letters and talking to people, he said, is all he can do: “We have no way of applying any pressure, because we are not constituents of the state of Virginia.”
Jackson reports for the Danville Register & Bee.