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Local gold dredging in river an issue


People travel to the Fredericksburg area to dredge for gold in the Rappahannock River—a process that can be harmful to the environment.

That’s what Fredericksburg Watershed Property Manager Lee Sillitoe told an audience of about 30 people at a workshop Tuesday hosted by the Virginia Conservation Network.

“There’s a surge in recreational gold mining,” he said at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library headquarters in Fredericksburg. “It’s drawing people from outside our state.”

The state doesn’t require a permit to dredge for gold, so it’s unclear exactly how many people are doing it.

Sillitoe said people use gas-powered suction dredges, which  can destroy fish nests and deposit silt that suffocates fish and their eggs.

He said he doesn’t want to ban dredging for gold, but said the state needs to place some restrictions on the activity.

“You take out the fish, and you’re going to take out the life of that river,” Sillitoe said.

 The Rappahannock River, he also noted, is used for drinking water.

Nathan Lott, executive director of the Virginia Conservation Network, said he hopes to come up with “reasonable regulation and resolution” on the issue.

Tuesday’s workshop was one of seven scheduled statewide. It focused on clean water and clean air,  which Lott called the “heart and soul of the conservation movement.”

“There’s almost nothing we do that can’t connect back to clean air and clean water,” he said.

Jeff Painter, a lobbyist with the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, talked about his opposition to efforts to lift Virginia’s 30-year uranium mining ban. Proponents of uranium mining tout the potential economic benefits.

A company—Virginia Uranium Inc.—formed around a uranium deposit at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County, wants the state to lift the ban, allowing the company to mine what it says is a deposit of at least 119 million pounds of uranium worth more than $7 billion.

But Painter said it could have major environmental consequences. He encouraged attendees to contact their state legislators and noted that State Sen. Bryce Reeves, R–Spotsylvania, had not taken a stance on the issue.

The moratorium is a concern here because Marline Uranium Corp. secured leases in the 1970s  on thousands of acres in Orange, Culpeper, Madison and Fauquier counties with a plan to mine and mill the radioactive mineral.

The Marline leases were withdrawn in the early 1980s when uranium prices plummeted, and projected demand for enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power plants fell after the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

The 2013 General Assembly is expected to consider lifting the ban.

“This is not a D issue or an R issue,” Painter said. “This is truly a nonpartisan issue.”

Jeff Branscome:  540/374-5402