Category Archives: Citizen Activism

Friends of Nelson 2019 Annual Report


Friends of Nelson exists to serve the people of this special community. Because of your continued support—whether attending our meetings and rallies, volunteering for one of our programs, or supporting us financially—we have accomplished a great deal during the five years of our existence.  We have challenged the pipeline builders’ assertions about the ACP’s great benefits and minimal dangers.  The issues we and our allies have raised are now front and center in Virginia and beyond where battles over the huge national pipeline build-out are raging.  We have helped push back the announced in-service date of the ACP by at least two years; the projected cost of the pipeline has ballooned to the point that investors and rating companies are expressing concerns; and both Duke and Dominion have acknowledged the possibility that their pipeline may not be built as planned.

But there is more to do.  We cannot rest on our laurels.  Until the Atlantic Coast Pipeline boondoggle is stopped, we must continue to work hard to bring the ACP’s weaknesses to the attention of key policy makers and follow through to get them to take action.  We hope for your continued support through monetary donations and participation in our 2020 campaigns.  (Click here for donation form to print and mail)

Please start the new year by joining us for our annual celebration, January 12th at the Rockfish Valley Community Center.  Stay tuned for more information.

FON NEWSLETTER + FACEBOOK – We continued weekly publication of our widely read and praised newsletter. This essential outreach program alerts readers to upcoming public meetings, rallies, deadlines for public comments and important events. It concisely summarizes the major points of key reports, articles and other news on the ACP and other aspects of the struggle to shift from an economy based on fossil fuels to the clean energy economy we must have. Other articles and reports of possible interest are listed by title and with links to web sites. Through our Facebook posts of important actions and upcoming events, we reach approximately 5,000 followers.

PUBLIC INFO + EDUCATION – We continued our “tabling” activities at the Nelson Farmers’ Market, public meetings, and various regional festivals and other special events.  From May through October, we are present at the weekly farmers’ market, where we answer visitors’ questions and collect signatures on letters to key decision-makers.  In 2019, we got an average of 30 signatures on over 17 different letters.  We installed additional large NO PIPELINE signs on major thoroughfares throughout Nelson County; these signs frequently provoke market visitors to stop by our display and talk with us.  We also submitted many letters to the editors of regional newspapers, 16 of which were printed.  We held a number of public meetings at which outside experts provided information on a variety of topics, including the legal aspects of the ACP review, developments in renewable energy, the risks of burying the ACP on Nelson’s steep slopes, reforming the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, potential problems with pipeline coatings, and the struggle for environmental justice in the Union Hill community in Buckingham County.

EFFORTS TO INFLUENCE DECISION-MAKERS – In concert with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) and our allied citizen groups, we continued our efforts to inform and educate local, state, and federal office-holders about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and its many deficiencies and dangers. The impact of any specific letter, petition, call or conversation may be hard to discern, but policy makers are beginning to understand our opposition to the ACP and other unnecessary, dangerous, costly and unfair fossil fuel infrastructure projects. For example, we joined other organizations urging Virginia Attorney General Herring to oppose the EPA’s plan to reduce state and local governments’ authority under the Clean Water Act; soon after, Mr. Herring joined 22 other state attorneys general in a formal objection.

STREAM MONITORING – For the past three years, Friends of Nelson has participated in the Trout Unlimited/West Virginia Rivers citizen science stream monitoring program. On a monthly basis, 16-18 trained volunteers gather baseline water quality data on 9 small streams that would be crossed by the ACP.  If and when ACP construction begins in Nelson County, we will begin collecting water quality data on a weekly basis.  The end result of this volunteer effort will be solid water quality data that will be instrumental in pursuing corrective actions. In addition to the citizen science program, we helped ABRA’s Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) program train volunteers how to observe and report possible violations on other county streams.

OTHER STREAM OBSERVATION – Through the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance’s (CSI), trained volunteers keep watch on other streams that may be polluted by ACP construction. This “adopt a stream” program trains volunteers how to identify potential evidence of construction violations, legally trace problems to the source, and file reports with the CSI hotline, where experts decide which cases should be investigated further. Often this will involve the Pipeline Air Force (fixed wing airplanes and drones) gathering visual evidence of problems with high-resolution cameras, and in some cases experts will visit the site personally. Friends of Nelson helped recruit volunteers.

WELL WATER TESTING – With grant funding, a volunteer with expertise in environmental health developed a plan for assessing well water quality in areas along the proposed path of the ACP in Nelson and Buckingham counties.  Measures include 87-90 different pollutants (the last 3 involve extra expense, so are optional).  All testing is carried out by certified experts, with the goal of providing solid data for regulatory enforcement or legal action.  Friends of Nelson will do our pre-construction testing as close as possible to the start of any construction activities.

LANDOWNER SUPPORT – We continued a major effort to help affected landowners in Nelson County deal with a wide range of concerns related to eminent domain.  We helped them understand the legal and procedural aspects of eminent domain; provided them with information to overcome Dominion’s unfair advantage during easement negotiations; helped them connect with good legal counsel; alerted them to possible irregularities and changes in ACP’s plans; provided them a direct and vital link to the Pipeline CSI team; and helped them build supportive relationships with other affected landowners.

SUPPORTING OUR ALLIES – As in the past, many of us attended allied citizen groups’ meetings, rallies and other events, and often they attended our gatherings.  In addition, when appropriate, we signed on to others’ anti-pipeline initiatives.

Five years after Dominion CEO Farrell and Governor McAuliffe announced plans for the ACP, not a single shovelful of soil has been dug in Nelson County or Virginia, Dominion’s original justification for their massive project has largely been discredited, and Dominion is struggling to overcome the loss or suspension of seven permits.  It seems reasonable to conclude that we’re doing something right.  Therefore, our intention in the new year is to continue what we’ve been doing—all of it, because it’s hard to tell exactly what’s working and what’s not producing the results we want. Our own internal review of where we stand and where we need to go has revealed a number of programs that could be strengthened or expanded.

PUBLIC INFO + EDUCATION – After 5 years, many of our large storyboards and maps, key elements in our tabling program, are showing their age, both in their physical condition and in their messages.  Prior to the start of the 2020 farmers’ market season, we will develop new, attractive, informative, up-to-date signs and maps.  Our conversations at the market and festivals reveal that many people from Nelson and nearby counties have limited understanding of the ACP in particular and, beyond that, the larger context of topics like climate change, renewable energy, energy conservation, and federal and state laws and regulations.  For 2020, we plan to develop a speakers bureau comprising FON Board members and volunteers who have expertise or a strong interest in one or more of these topics and are willing to present informative talks.

COLLABORATION WITH ALLIES – It takes a team to defeat massive projects like the ACP and the huge amounts of money its backers can pour into TV, lobbying and other promotional activities. Our local “team” includes over 50 other citizen groups under the ABRA umbrella.  In 2020, we will continue to build relationships with these local allies and also with other grassroots organizations throughout the country fighting against the massive and destructive buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure.  There are many similarities in our struggles, and we have much to learn from one another.

‘Everyday People’ vs. Corporate Goliath

Who.What.Why discusses the David vs Goliath battle of “everyday people” against Dominion in a November 25, 2019 article. “It seems like a David vs. Goliath battle. Since 2014, a coalition of environmental, civil rights, and community groups, along with some local businesses, has fought in court to block a massive $8 billion pipeline. The anti-pipeline coalition, which is represented by an environmental law firm, is up against a politically connected corporation with 7.5 million customers in 18 states, 21,000 employees, and 2018 earnings of $2.4 billion.”

In addition to eliminating “more than 6,800 acres of forest — an area the size of eight Central Parks” and upending the lives of people living on or near its route, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline “has implications for millions of ratepayers in both Virginia and North Carolina. It also raises concerns about a major utility’s investment in fossil fuels, at a time when carbon emissions are jeopardizing the way humans live in the future.”

The article discusses the Supreme Court’s agreement to hear Dominion’s appeal of the December 2018 Fourth Circuit ruling that “the US Forest Service does not have the authority to grant Dominion the right to build its pipeline across the Appalachian Trail ‘at its preferred crossing point,’ on federal lands,” and why a Dominion victory in the Supreme Court would not be the last word, how the pipeline could punish Dominion ratepayers, whether (or not) Dominion’s political clout will prevail, as well as the surge in grassroots political engagement to fight the ACP.

Lewis Freeman, executive director of the Allegheny–Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA), a coalition of 51 community and environmental groups of which Friends of Nelson is one, says the ACP has energized average citizens.

“Pipeline construction will require ACP engineers to sheer the tops off some mountain ridges. When Freeman asked an engineer what they would do with all that rock and soil, the engineer responded that the materials would be ‘”carefully set aside” and then “put back the way it was.” Well, you don’t have to be an engineer to blink at that,’ Freeman said. ‘Are they gonna put it back with Gorilla glue?'”

Freeman continued, saying, “‘Notwithstanding the length of time this battle has gone, I marvel at the people and organizations that have, from the early stages, opposed this project. Most of our members are community groups, citizens groups, many of which were formed as a result of the pipeline proposal.’ These ‘involved activists had never been involved in a fight like this before,’ Freeman added. ‘So when Dominion talks about the “wild-eye environmentalists,” they’re mischaracterizing who their opposition is. They’re everyday people who just think this is a lousy project in the wrong place.'”

Who.What.Why notes that, “Dominion did not respond to two requests for comment on this story.”

Read the full article here.

Worth Noting!

The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance sent out their 250th ABRA Update on October 24, 2019. Commenting on the occasion, ABRA’s Dan Shaffer says,

If you’d asked me in October of 2014 what I’d be doing today – well, let’s just say writing this email would not have come to mind!

But then, I guess the Atlantic Coast Pipeline wasn’t exactly in anybody’s 5-year plan…except of course, Dominion’s.

That said, I think it’s fair to say that nobody, on either side of the issue, expected we’d be here: the project stalled on multiple fronts by litigation, permits revoked, costs soaring and Dominion struggling to put a good face on the debacle while having only 20 miles of pipe in the ground.

THAT said…this thing is far from over…like it or not. Dominion still has a virtually-unlimited supply of our money at its disposal to plow ahead. It still wields unmatched influence over Virginia politics and thus our energy and economic future. It has friends in high places, as its inclusion on this administration’s early Priority Infrastructure list, latest Attorney General (William Barr – recent Dominion board member), and the U.S. Solicitor General’s request for a Supreme Court hearing over the Appalachian Trial crossing all attest.

Thus, we must ourselves keep pushing back against the fossil fuel tide which, while difficult to stand against, is simply no longer the irresistible force that it once was. Though the current is shifting in our direction, the battle, much less the War, is not yet won. We are on the right side of this – and of history. But we must keep fighting.

Thanks again for all of the hard work that all of you have done. All of the time that you have committed and sacrifices you’ve made.

It has not been in vain. If it had, there would be an operating pipeline in the ground today…not this email in your Inbox!

Legal Observer Training – 2 Opportunities

Attorney Kai Memmer, a volunteer for the Southwest Virginia Chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild, will train attendees to become Legal Observers. LO’s are needed immediately in the Elliston, VA area, other areas along the MVP route, and where law enforcement and protestors are in proximity to monitor and document interactions. LO’s presence serves to de-escalate tensions on both sides, and is a vital, neutral information gathering tool.

Volunteers are needed for any amount of time. Information on the National Lawyer’s Guild and the Legal Observer program: https://www.nlg.org/our-work/

Training session #1: Wednesday, October 30 at 6pm at the Lucy F Simms Continuing Education Center, Classroom 101, 620 Simms Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802

Training session #2: Wednesday, November 6 at 6pm at the Nelson Memorial Library, 8521 Thomas Nelson Highway, Lovingston VA 22949

Questions? drkinva@yahoo.com

Virginia’s History of Displacemment


An article in the Washington Post on October 11, 2019, asks, Will Virginians be able to resist the Atlantic Coast Pipeline? It points out that backers of the ACP see the Supreme Court’s consideration of the ACP’s effort to cross the Appalachian Trail as one of getting government regulations out of the way of a private industry (supposedly) operating for the public good.

“But for people in central Virginia, the push for a pipeline is a story of government interference, part of a century of struggle between government authorities and vulnerable populations that have been displaced from the land. …. Urban and rural communities alike have their own collective memories of the encroachment of government-backed industry. Those memories are reflected in the diverse coalition that has come together to fight the pipeline.”

The article describes how “One of the largest land seizures in the history of the state took place in the same forest that Dominion now contests” when Virginia, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, used eminent domain to acquire 190,000 acres in the rural Blue Ridge Mountains, seizing or condemning the homes and farms of about 465 families, removing 2,000 people from land they had tended for generations. Virginia then donated the land to the federal government for Shenandoah National Park.

In 1964, under the guise of “slum-cleansing,” the city of Charlottesville razed Vinegar Hill, home to a thriving community of African American residents and black-owned businesses, Charlottesville’s center of black economic life and culture. The city destroyed 29 businesses and forced 500 residents into public housing – and then for 20 years the land sat unused.

And now in rural Buckingham County, the ACP’s compressor station threatens Union Hill, a historically black community. Residents there have spoken out against the pipeline – as have residents in Nelson County whose planned and established businesses would also be destroyed by the ACP.

The unusual coalition fighting the pipeline reveals “a surprising alignment of interests across traditional social, racial, economic and political boundaries. In Buckingham, Va., Baptists and yogis have joined to fight the pipeline. That unusual coalition is up against powerful forces: the Trump administration, a big energy company and a Supreme Court dominated by conservative justices. But for more than a century, the people of central Virginia have been battling the government over their right to control their land, farms, parks and city neighborhoods. Whatever happens in the Supreme Court this term, they’ll keep fighting.”

Hands Across the Appalachian Trail


Saturday, September 28, 2019 at 11 AM – 1 PM, Humpback Rocks Visitor’s Center and Picnic Area, Milepost 5.8, Blue Ridge Parkway, Lyndhurst, VA 22952

Hosted by Sierra Club Virginia Chapter

Join your friends and neighbors at the Fourth Annual Hands Across the Appalachian Trail! Be part of this special weekend of events across the state on Saturday, September 28 and Sunday, September 29, as we work to protect our communities, water, air, land and natural treasures from the threats posed by unneeded and harmful fracked gas pipelines.

The Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines propose to cross several nationally known and highly popular public recreational areas including the George Washington National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Eastern Trail, and – the iconic Appalachian Trail. The dedicated work of volunteers, community groups, allies, legal advocates and individuals has led to Stop Work Orders and further delays of the pipelines, and the efforts to stop these fracked-gas project continues.

The Hands Across the Appalachian Trail events features the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s vision to “connect the human spirit with nature – preserving the delicate majesty of the Trail as a haven for all to enjoy.” Come celebrate the Appalachian Trail, meet others working to protect it and enjoy food, music, and speakers!

The Saturday, September 28 event will take place at:
Humpback Rocks Visitors Center/Augusta County: Humpback Rocks Visitor’s Center and Picnic Area, Milepost 5.8, Blue Ridge Parkway, Lyndhurst, VA 22952

For more information contact:
Jessica Sims:
jessica.sims@sierraclub.org 804-366-0745
We look forward to seeing you on Saturday, September 28!

Other Hands Across the Appalachian Trail events:

Saturday, September 28, 11am-1pm
Giles County/Pearisburg: Route 100 intersection with Appalachian Trail (Trailhead), 2030 Narrows Road, Pearisburg, VA 24134 (Bluff City)

Sunday, September 29, 11am-1pm
Bears Den, 18393 Blue Ridge Mountain Road, Bluemont, VA 20135