Del. Don Merricks, R-Chatham, who has been a vocal opponent of a proposed uranium mining operation in Pittsylvania County, announced today that he won’t run for another term in the House of Delegates this fall.
Merricks, who was first elected to the House in 2007, said he wants to spend more time on his Danville business. Merricks and his wife own and operate J. W. Squire Co., Inc., a building specialties company.
“As with many small business owners, the past several years have been difficult and I have had many hard decisions to make. And now I must make my most difficult decision yet,” Merricks said in a written statement. “By not returning to Richmond, I will be able to be in my ofhce daily working alongside my wife and my employees to ensure that our business is strong and we are finding new opportunities for growth.”
The 16th District covers Martinsville and parts of Henry and Pittsylvania County. Merricks was first elected to the House after his predecessor, Republican Robert Hurt of Chatham, vacated the seat to run for the state Senate. Hurt now holds the 5th District seat in Congress.
When the 16th District was redrawn in 2011, Merricks found himself in the same district with Democrat Ward Armstrong of Henry County, then the House minority leader. Armstrong changed his voting residence to the adjacent 9th District, but lost to Republican Del. Charles Poindexter of Franklin County. Armstrong has since returned to the 16th District, but said today that he won’t run for the House seat.
Merricks said he did not know of a Republican who is planning to run for his seat, but added: “It’s a little early.”
There is a contest shaping up in the adjacent 14th District, which covers Danville and parts of Henry and Pittsylvania County. Danville Republican Danny Marshall has represented the district for six terms. Last week, Danville Vice Mayor Gary Miller, a Democrat, announced plans to run for the seat.
Merricks’ district includes the site of a proposed uranium mining and milling operation that has been a source of contentious debate in the General Assembly.Virginia Uranium Inc. has plans to mine a 119 million-pound uranium deposit on the Coles Hill site, but first needs the legislature to lift Virginia’s 31 year-old moratorium on uranium mining.
Lawmakers this year took no action on bills that would have lifted the ban and established a regulatory framework for the industry. Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan County, withdrew his bill when it became clear he did not have the votes to get it out of a Senate committee.
Merricks, 61, is among a group of Southside Virginia lawmakers who oppose lifting the moratorium and want Gov. Bob McDonnell to resist pressure for his administration to develop uranium mining regulations. Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, who represents the area of the proposed mining operation, also opposes lifting the moratorium.
Merricks said in a phone interview that he remains concerned about the environmental risks of milling uranium and storing the waste product from that process at the Coles Hill site. But the uranium issue was not a factor in his decision to retire from the legislature, he said.
Merricks said it has been “an honor and privilege to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates” for three terms.
“My responsibilities have extended to representing Southside Virginia values in Richmond, pursuing economic recovery, securing workforce training, encouraging job growth and standing firmly for a safe and healthy environment for all residents,” Merricks said in his announcement.
– Michael Sluss