Buckingham County officials discovered Canadian mining exploration company Aston Bay Holdings sample drilling in parts of the region for gold deposits, in violation of zoning requirements, according to minutes from a planning commission meeting. After stopping the company in June from continuing its exploration, Buckingham officials have been holding meetings and public hearings to decide whether or not to allow Aston Bay Holdings to continue its core drilling. The issue is the latest conflict of environmentalists and mineral extraction businesses fighting for local support in Virginia.
“We are sitting here trying to open up the county to business,” Commission Chairman Patrick Bowe said according to the September planning commission meeting minutes. “Why would we consider not thanking them for looking for gold? I hope they find all they want and come in here and apply for a mining operation.”
Officials at the September meeting also expressed concern over Aston Bay drilling without notifying the county first. When Bowe suggested that the commission should consider that Aston Bay had already invested in equipment and labor, Supervisor Donnie Bryan asked, “So what you are saying, Pat, it’s better to do it and ask for forgiveness than to seek permission?”
Vice-Chairman John Bickford said that the drilling itself seemed to have little environmental risk. According to the minutes, he said, “I’m just not sure about the core drilling because it [is] so minimal impact with four holes or five holes on 80 some acres, three inches and they are closing them as soon as the sample is gotten. I just don’t know. I don’t have enough information to make a decision tonight. It sounds like it’s not much of an impact to the environment.”
However, at a public hearing on October 26, residents expressed concern about a potential mine using too much local water and contaminating local resources. Resident James Branch Jr. summarized, “Buckingham County does need new business but not at the expense of Buckingham County. The core sampling and eventually mines that follow will cause irreparable damage to Buckingham County and surrounding areas. The environment will be impacted first and foremost because of the depletion of water supply. Contamination of air and water will certainly occur, thus affecting the wildlife as well as human lives.”
“We are especially concerned about what the waste toxins from this drilling and mining would do to our streams and the shallow residential drinking-water wells in the area,” states a post by the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance.
In company documents, Aston Bay Holdings emphasizes the difference between exploration and mining activities. “An active exploration program does not by itself indicate that mining will eventually occur, or even that it would be a desirable investment. The road from exploration to mine production is a long one,” the company states.
In March 2019, the company announced in a press release that they had signed an agreement with a local timber company to begin exploratory work on the timber company’s property, and in June 2019, the company announced results from a drilling program on the site. Investor documentation touts a “historic near-surface gold production and recent gold discovery” in an area “Little explored since 1850.” The share price for the holdings was $.04 in October 2020.
At the October 26 meeting, the planning commission determined that before they would grant permits for Aston Bay to resume work, they wanted more input from experts and from the Board of Supervisors (BOS). The commission sent a letter inviting the BOS to join the commission at a November 16 meeting.
Supervisor Danny Allen, representing the BOS at the October meeting, said, “To me, I would like to just invite all the people like the geologist, the health department, whoever can give us more information on it here at our next meeting, and invite the Board. ”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Aston Bay Virginia Gold Mining” by Aston Bay.