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Forum tackles uranium, reversion, development
Naomi Hodge Muse (left), moderator, opened a city council candidates’ forum Tuesday evening at Mt. Sinai Apostolic Church as candidates Jim Woods (from left), Mark Stroud and Sharon Brooks Hodge listen.(Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Three of the four Martinsville City Council candidates in the Nov. 6 election said Tuesday they oppose uranium mining in Virginia unless it is proven that the process is completely safe.
Sharon Brooks Hodge, Mark Stroud and Jim Woods made comments to that effect during a forum sponsored by the local Voters League and held at Mt. Sinai Apostle Church of Christ in God. About 20 people attended.
The fourth candidate, incumbent Councilman Danny Turner, was not there. He said earlier in the day that he had to drive Constitution Party presidential candidate Virgil Goode, who lives in Rocky Mount, to Richmond.
In 1983, the General Assembly banned uranium mining statewide. Scientists have voiced concerns that the mining could harm the environment and public health, such as through radiological contamination.
Virginia Uranium Inc. wants the ban repealed so it can mine and mill uranium at a site near Chatham thought to be one of the world’s largest deposits of the metal. The company maintains it would create hundreds of jobs and its operations would be safe.
The forum’s moderator, Martinsville-Henry County NAACP President Naomi Hodge-Muse, summarized a report published earlier this year by the National Academy of Sciences as saying “all of the risks cannot be mitigated.”
Stroud, the other incumbent candidate, said area residents have made him aware of concerns that uranium mining could hurt the groundwater sources.
Woods said that with a potential for mining to lead to “thousands of years of contamination,” as the report shows, he could not support it now.
Even if mining can be done safely, Hodge said, “can we trust” the people who would be doing the mining to do it safely?
Hodge-Muse asked the candidates their positions on whether the city should legally revert to a town in Henry County to save money. As an independent city, Martinsville is not part of the county that surrounds it.
“Reverting would have a profound effect” on both the city and the county, Stroud said. “I’d only support it if a majority of our citizens support it.”
He said he thinks becoming a town would cause Martinsville to lose some of its clout as a community.
“We ought to be prudent” and see what studies the city now is having done on the effects of reversion ultimately say, Woods said.
“At the very least,” though, he said, “we ought to talk about” consolidating some services.
“Most people are in favor of” eliminating duplicate services in some way, Hodge said based on what area residents have told her.
Instead of reversion, she said “a more positive step” would be for the city and county to merge into one community, like how various localities in the Tidewater region once merged to form Virginia Beach.
Hodge-Muse asked the candidates if they would support using Community Development Block Grant funds to upgrade properties along Fayette Street.
Stroud said he would. Hodge said she would, too, but she thinks other efforts such as street paving are necessary.
“It’s not enough just to fix (problems with) bricks and mortar,” she said.
Woods said he would support using block grant funds to spruce up blighted areas, wherever they are, “if a viable project is on the table.”
People in the forum audience were allowed to ask questions.
Mt. Sinai’s pastor, Bishop J.C. Richardson Jr., asked the candidates what skills they think they have that will enable them to help other city council members help the city overcome its economic challenges.
Stroud, a retired Martinsville Sheriff’s Office deputy, has spent four years on the council. He said “I’d like to think” that experience gives him an advantage in doing the job of a council member.
He said he uses information supplied by city administrators and consultants as well as opinions he hears from city residents to make what he thinks are appropriate decisions on issues.
Woods is manager of the Blue Ridge Regional Library’s Martinsville branch. He said he is “an avid questioner” who enjoys research and would examine issues thoroughly and strive to help council members achieve consensus.
He said he was unemployed for two years and his experiences “living hand to mouth” give him unique perspectives on issues, especially economic ones.
A former journalist and corporate communications specialist, Hodge now is executive director of the Black Family Preservation Group. She said she also has been a paid consultant with experience in research, analysis and giving opinions on issues.
Local lawyer Perry Harrold asked Stroud, as a council member, if he favors using affirmative action in city hiring practices.
Harrold said he understands the city was going to put an affirmative action policy into place. Stroud said he had not heard about such a plan but he will try to find out if that is the case.
“I certainly want to make sure our city employees reflect the diversity of” Martinsville’s population, Stroud said.
But “I’m in favor of anyone being hired” based on his or her qualifications, said Stroud. “Each and every person in this town” has a right to a job for which they are qualified.
He indicated that the city sometimes does not get as many applications for vacant jobs from minorities as it would like to receive.