By Peter Galuszka
Jerry A. Hagerman, a supervisor in Pittsylvania County which is at the center of a battle over proposed uranium mining, says that State Sen. Bill Stanley (pictured) told him that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell asked Stanley to lobby the county Board of Supervisors to shelve a resolution regarding uranium at its Sept. 4 meeting. Hagerman says he has a taped telephone call from Stanley to prove it.
Both Stanley and Jeff Caldwell, McDonnell’s press secretary, told me emphatically on Sept. 13 that no one in the governor’s office had spoken with Stanley about asking the board to drop the resolution from their agenda.
Among other things, the resolution would have asked the state to set up a fund to reimburse local residents impacted by any future uranium mining accident and that appropriate state or federal mining regulations be in place.
“Bill Stanley called me at 10:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 31 to ask me to go along with shelving the resolution. I was surprised and upset by his call,” Hagerman told me. The resolution had been placed on the county’s Website on that day as part of the upcoming meeting agenda.
Hagerman tape recorded the Stanley call and played it for me. In the call, Stanley is heard to say distinctly that he did speak with McDonnell regarding the county uranium resolution.
At one point, Stanley can be heard saying, “I just got a call from the Governor.” At another time, he can be heard saying, “The Governor called and said it is very important to reach out.”
Asked about the taped call, press secretary Caldwell emailed me on Sept. 14 that “neither the governor not any member of his administration has made any calls, directly or indirectly, in an effort to influence the actions of the board of supervisors. Any claims to the contrary are simply untrue.” Stanley did not respond to a request for comment about the taped call with Hagerman.
During the telephone conversation which lasted about 20 minutes, Stanley told Hagerman that it was important that the county not come out at this time with any opinion about ending the uranium mining ban. It would be better to wait until after a study commission had come up with recommendations on ending a 30-year-old ban on uranium mining and the General Assembly voted on the matter at its upcoming winter session, he said.
“You guys don’t need to vote now. It can save you big personally and politically and you have control of your conscience,” Stanley can be heard saying. “You guys are the super stars right now,” he added. During the tape-recorded conversation, Hagerman tried to beg off, asking Stanley to call him the next day. Stanley did not know he was being taped and Hagerman often tapes calls from constituents to help him remember facts.
In the talk, Stanley told Hagerman, who is an independent and new in office, “I think you are doing a great job and this is not a battle a politician needs to put his stake in the ground about right now.”
Stanley also spoke about the need to revitalize the county which has been hard hit by massive layoffs over the past decade as textile and furniture makers either shut down or moved their factories overseas.
Stanley mentioned an upcoming deal that involves Gov. McDonnell and Virginia Beach, which has opposed lifting the mining ban because it gets its drinking water from nearby lakes.
In his comments, Stanley can be heard saying that Virginia Beach could help create thousands of jobs in Pittsylvania County by creating an inland port in his area. An inland port is a facility where container cargo taken from ships is hauled inland and then reloaded on trucks or rail cars.
What could not be learned is why Stanley repeatedly mentioned “Virginia Beach,” which has no commercial port facilities although surrounding cities in Hampton Roads, including Norfolk, Newport News and Portsmouth, have large ones. What’s more, the Virginia Port Authority, a quasi-state entity, usually proposes and builds inland ports, not individual cities.
Asked about the discrepancy, Hagerman said he didn’t know anything about it. “I just go to Virginia Beach sometimes for vacation,” he said.
Stanley is a close political ally of McDonnell, who helped raise $83,000 for a recent Stanley political campaign. He is a lawyer who lives in Franklin County and represents the 20th senatorial district. Hagerman lives in Gretna and opposes the uranium mining project.
Marshall Ecker, another Pittsylvania County supervisor, told me Sept. 13 that he understood that either McDonnell or his staff had asked Stanley to lobby the board to shelve the resolution.
In a previous interview, Stanley told me that he did call some supervisors to delay the resolution vote, that McDonnell had no involvement and that Stanley did so because he believed the current resolution was flawed and it was not the time to consider it. Stanley says he agrees that effective mining regulation need not be in place but says that taxpayers should not be stuck with the bill for any mining accident.
Virginia Uranium plans to develop a 119 million-pound deposit of uranium near Chatham. The controversial proposal has attracted national media attention.