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Uranium mining, menhaden catch limits, Sunday hunting among conservation bills before General Assembly
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By RUSTY DENNEN
Uranium mining, menhaden fishing and Sunday hunting bills are among conservation-related measures sure to generate debate at this year's Virginia General Assembly session.
Though no bill has been filed yet, legislators are expected to take up whether the moratorium on uranium mining and milling, in effect since 1982, should be lifted.
Lawmakers last year passed on that question after Gov. Bob McDonnell said the matter should be postponed to allow more study. Virginia Uranium Inc. says it can safely mine a rich deposit at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County, while opponents say the highly radioactive material presents human health and safety, and environmental risks for hundreds of years.
The Uranium Working Group, assembled by the governor, issued its report in November with no recommendation about whether the ban should be lifted.
To date, one related bill has been filed--to establish a 3 percent state severance tax on mined uranium.
Another topic on legislators' plates again this year is menhaden. The small fish--caught by the millions and processed into oil and fertilizer, and used for bait--are a key source of food for many other species in the Chesapeake Bay.
Several bills would bring Virginia in line with broader conservation measures along the East Coast.
On Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bill by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford County, to comply with the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission's 20 percent harvest cutback. A House subcommittee later in the day approved a companion bill.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation was among those praising the action.
"We are hopeful the legislation will gain final approval by the full House and Senate," CBF Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings said in a statement Friday.
Bills to allow various forms of Sunday hunting are back this year, with several aimed at eroding or ending the ban.
One would allow hunting wild animals, but not birds, on Sundays on private property in Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun and Prince William counties.
Others would allow hunting with a bow and arrow or crossbow on Sundays; killing nuisance species--such as coyotes; and Sunday hunting on private lands with permission of the landowner.
The General Assembly is considering dozens of conservation bills this session. Here's a sampling of what's on the table:
SB 1291--Reduces menhaden catch by 20 percent to bring catch in line with Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's mandate.
HB 1840--Reduces menhaden catch from 109,020 tons to 87,216 metric tons.
HB 1804--Sets a 3 percent state severance tax on gross receipts of any uranium mined in the state.
HB 1591--Bans the use of plastic carryout bags by retailers, unless the bags are durable, at least 2.25 millimeters thick, with handles and designed for multiple uses.
SB 202--Makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to build or maintain an enclosure to pursue, hunt or kill a fox or coyote with dogs.
HB 2225--Allows Sunday hunting on private land with permission of the landowner.
SB 954--Prohibits use of a drone to monitor and photograph anyone lawfully hunting on private property.
SB 737--Opens rivers and streams in the state to vessels without motors, whether or not the waterway is considered navigable, or the adjoining banks are publicly or privately owned.Track the bills online at: leg1.state.va.us/