From 2003 to 2005, Walter Coles was enjoying raising cattle on his ancestral family farm, hunting quail with life-long friends, and restoring the handsome home his family built just after the War of 1812. On the wall of this manor house hangs a land grant signed by Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Governor, reflecting the esteem with which this early Virginia family was held in the eyes of the nation’s founders.
Coles, who had recently retired after a 33-year career as a military and foreign service officer, had lived all over the world. He worked on economic development initiatives in places like Egypt, Russia, Jordan and Thailand. He had two tours of duty as a combat officer in Vietnam and still enjoyed keeping a small plane on the airstrip located on his farm.
Twenty years earlier, Coles Hill had become the center of a statewide debate over whether the very large uranium deposit on the property should be mined. Attention from all over the world was focused on Coles Hill, but in the end the price of uranium dropped precipitously and Marline, the mining company holding the leases on the property, lost interest. A moratorium had been placed on uranium mining until mining regulations could be established. In studying the matter, the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission concluded that uranium mining could be done in Virginia. But in the absence of commercial interest in the uranium deposit, the regulations were never established.
So, when Walter Coles returned home after his career, only the deposit itself, by then well-defined by scientists and geologists, remained beneath the pastoral fields of Coles Hill where it had been for millions of years. Also remaining was the moratorium prohibiting mining until regulations could be established.
But slowly, inexorably, as Walter Coles and his wife enjoyed retirement, the price of uranium was creeping upwards. And as it rose, so did the number of companies who came knocking on the door at Coles Hill to talk about developing the resource. Mining companies arrived from Australia, France, Canada and the United States—all with offers they hoped would be too good for the Coles Family to refuse.
But Walter Coles turned them all down. He figured that he could establish his own company, one that would embrace all the values of community and environmental stewardship he was afraid would be lost if an outside company came in to run the project. He wanted the company to be controlled and managed by Virginians. It was a momentous decision, for gone would be all the gentle pleasures of retirement.
In late 2006, Coles reached an agreement with the neighboring Bowen Family whose farm land encompasses a portion of the deposit. As a result, the two families agreed to form their own company. Soon after that, Walter Coles, along with his son and daughter—both successful in banking and finance—began talking to banks and venture capitalists.
They quickly learned that, for raising money for an enterprise like Coles imagined, the funds were in Canada—not the United States. In Toronto they found institutions with expertise in natural resource investing that were eager to support the project, and in the end the bulk of the start-up capital came in from Toronto, Vancouver, and New York.
But most important to Walter Coles were the 31 Virginians who were among the first investors. He began to form a board of directors that included people with successful experiences in mining all over the world, as well as representatives of the families who owned the lands to be leased to the company.
On January 16, 2007 Virginia Uranium was formed, with Walter Coles as chairman and his son, Walter Coles, Jr., as Executive Vice President. Norman Reynolds, who had been president of the predecessor company, Marline, brought his valuable experience to the table as a Director and as President and Chief Executive Officer.
Investor confidence in the company has not lagged, with over $50 million being invested in the project since 2007. Much of that has been spent in additional studies of the deposit, as well as in informing Virginians and their legislators of the enormous positive impact the enterprise can have on the state and region as well as on the nation’s energy security.
The moratorium is still in place, but efforts to develop a strong regulatory framework for uranium mining in Virginia continue and legislation to establish regulations will likely be considered in upcoming legislative sessions.