"We drink the water. Our children play in these fields," Wales said. "We have the highest stake as well in ensuring that this is done in an environmentally friendly way."
Legislation has been submitted in the House of Delegates and the Senate to establish regulations for uranium mining, which would in effect end the 1982 moratorium and allow Virginia Uranium to move forward to tap the deposit.
While many expect a close vote, few are willingly to publicly venture a guess on the outcome. That's because the issue defies party politics, geography and traditional alliances. Public sentiment provides little guidance to lawmakers; statewide polling shows residents divided down the middle.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016 and has made energy development a cornerstone of his administration, has yet to take a position or say whether he will. But his lieutenant governor, fellow Republican Bruce Bolling, has stated he's opposed to mining. His position could be critical because he casts the deciding vote in the Senate when a tie vote occurs, and the Senate appears to be closely divided on uranium.
Ultimately, the decision could rest with the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, which would have to change Cole Hill's agricultural zoning. Last Wednesday, the board voted 5-1 for a nonbinding resolution supporting the moratorium on uranium mining.
Virginia Uranium has made it clear it will be back in 2014 if its heavily financed lobbying effort this session falls short. "We've got a $7 billion project," Wales said at a recent forum on uranium mining. "Do you really think we're going to give up and walk away?"
The same holds true for the opponents, who have hinted at litigation if mining is approved. Opposition is also stirring in North Carolina, which has an interest in mutually shared water resources across the state lines.