Friday, January 6, 2012

Delegate Lynwood Lewis ~ Town Hall Meeting

Last night at 7 p.m., citizens gathered in the Chincoteague Community Center to hear Delegate Lynwood Lewis finish his last of three town hall meetings before the commencement of the 2012 legislative session. In front of a crowd that Representative Lewis referred to as the largest of the weeks series, he outlined some key issues he predicted would be brought up in the General Assembly. Present among these were Governor McDonnell's proposed budget plans, the possibility of uranium mining in Chatham, Virginia, and Richmond's continued support of the NASA program on Wallops Island.

Delegate Lewis began the town hall meeting by elaborating upon the proposed budget McDonnell has outlined for the next two years. The eighty-five billion dollar, two-year budget is rather large for Virginia, but includes various 'rainy-day funds' to deal with potential cuts in spending at a federal level. Lewis acknowledged that unlike the national government, Virginia is required by its state constitution to maintain a balanced budget. Although Virginia has fared the recession better than most states, the growth rate is currently at three percent, down significantly from the average of six to eight percent. Governor McDonnell has borrowed 3.5 billion dollars to jumpstart the transportation sector, which has previously been what Lewis referred to as a 'self-financing government enterprise.'

To pay for this, the governor would like to take money from the general fund, which has historically been used for education, public safety, and healthcare. McDonnell justifies using part of the general fund because transportation is a core service provided by the government. Lewis's inclination, however, is it would not be good to allow the reallocation of funds because it would put transportation in competition with education and public safety. The proposed budget, House Bill 30, will not be voted on, most likely, until the last day of the General Assembly session in March.

Discussion then shifted away from the state of the economy onto a brighter subject matter- uranium mining in Virginia. Delegate Lewis described how mining in Chatham, Virginia may very well affect us here on the Eastern Shore. Under the farm of Walter Kohl in Pittsylvania County lies the largest untapped source of uranium in North America. Discovered in the eighties, it has remained relatively untouched because the low price of the substance made it economically unfeasible to drill. However, thanks to China's accumulation of the mineral, prices have skyrocketed, making the economic impact of 5-8 billion dollars worth of uranium undeniable. How does this Uranium jackpot affect us? Unfortunately it's not the money that could leak into the eastern part of the state. The surface water from land surrounding the uranium fields runs into Lake Gaston, which serves as the predominant water supply for Virginia Beach and parts of Norfolk. A drilling accident in that part of the state could contaminate the water supply and lead to catastrophic consequences.

The National Academy of Science released a report in mid-December concerning the health risks associated with uranium drilling in this region. In the months to come the General Assembly will be tasked with evaluating the report and outlining the safest and most beneficial regulations.

Also of great importance to the Eastern Shore, Delegate Lewis spoke of Richmond's continued support of the NASA facility on Wallops Island. Governor McDonnell has earmarked four million dollars for the completion of the launch pad, and Lewis is hopeful that more funds will become available as the budget is outlined more comprehensively in the weeks to come.


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