On Saturday April 13, 2019, Friends of Nelson held a day long workshop at Spruce Creek Camp featuring six speakers, a tour of the proposed route across the Blue Ridge Mountains, and hands-on exercises on safe participation in a protest action. The event ended with songs and dancing.
The purpose of the workshop was to inform activists on the current status of our opposition and to plan our future efforts. Speakers were:
- Richard Averitt, a local Nelson County landowner, who forcefully outlined what he and his family have had to go through in dealing with eminent domain and “quick take” attempts to seize their property. The present legal framework and particularly the Sage v. East Tennessee case, are structured to deny him and all resisting landowners ‘due process’, a fundamental right enshrined in the US Constitution.
- William Limpert, a landowner from Bath County, spoke about his research into coatings applied to gas pipelines to prevent corrosion. His preliminary findings indicate that long term storage of pipes in the sun breaks down the coating, which could lead to pipe corrosion and eventual catastrophic pipeline failure. He also voiced concern about the toxic properties of the coatings themselves. If the coating flakes off due to long term outdoor storage, these ‘flakes’ could end up in the water supply, especially when the pipe is laid in ground with porous Karst deposits. Karst is found along the proposed pipeline route in Highland, Bath and Augusta counties. Twenty thousand pipes on top of storage stacks have been exposed to sun for four years now, far exceeding the manufacturer’s recommended two year limit.
- Lakshmi Fjord, an anthropologist from Buckingham County, described Dominion Transmission’s persistent use of misleading demographic information to the Buckingham Board of Supervisors and in their Environmental Impact Statement, allowing the location of the highly dangerous and air-polluting compressor station right in the midst of a historically significant African American Community at Union Hill. Dr. Fjord and her team spent countless hours doing their own research to prove that the siting of the station was based on faulty assumptions that resulted in unnecessary harmful impacts. The scholarly research has been ignored by Dominion, the VA Department of the Environmental Quality, and the VA Air Pollution Control Board, and is now the basis for a suit brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).
- Rick Cornelius, an experienced environmental lawyer, updated the group on the numerous legal challenges to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. While some of these cases have been unsuccessful, several rulings have stopped the ACP project in its tracks, and other ongoing cases hold the promise for further delay. Mr. Cornelius appeared more optimistic about the ultimate outcome than he did in his previous presentation to the Friends of Nelson group last September.
- Jennifer Lewis, a founder of Friends of Augusta, described the how Karst deposits in Augusta County create frequent sinkholes. Currently there are three such holes in her neighborhood and it is not uncommon for sinkholes to swallow grazing cattle, tractors and other farm equipment. These ground disturbances could potentially rupture a gas pipeline, creating an explosion and/or pollute nearby or distant groundwater. Ms. Lewis then advocated for citizen involvement as a way to stop this ill-conceived project, urging the audience to join local boards and commissions. She also suggested that each person speak to five friends, associates, and/or family members about why they oppose the ACP.
- Tom Hadwin, a retired gas executive and an outspoken authority on energy and gas pipelines, made a strong presentation on why the energy needs of Virginia and North Carolina are better met by utilizing existing pipelines rather than building new ones, by practicing energy conservation, and by building alternative energy sources. He pointed out the demand for electric power and natural gas is actually flat or slowly increasing contrary to Dominion’s misleading growth projections outlined in their EIS submission. He described the economic incentives utilities have in building new pipelines, power plants, and even solar farms, and why their concern is for increasing profits for their stockholders and investors rather than for their ratepayer customers. He emphasized that the subsidiary entity that builds and transports the gas does not own or the sell the gas. Similarly, Amazon, which now has a subsidiary that transports the Amazon packages by airplane, competes with traditional shippers such as FedEx and UPS. It costs more to ship gas in new pipelines than existing ones, but the ratepayers have to pay the higher price because of the contracts signed by these entities. Although the original arguments for building the ACP were the supposed need for additional gas, that the gas would be cheaper, and that the project would create thousands of jobs, none of these three things are true today. The previous expansion of existing pipelines already in the ground exceeds the capacity of the proposed ACP and MVP pipelines combined. New pipelines cost more to ship gas than existing ones, and jobs aren’t created because an existing labor force of skilled pipeline workers travels from state to state, working on one construction project for eight months, then going on to another.
The workshop ended with a call to action and a handout with detailed steps for ways informed citizens could express their opposition and fight against the ACP. Of particular concern is stopping Congress from passing a law which circumvents the courts and allows the present proposed route to cross the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway in Nelson County.
Breaking Through News reporter Elaine Rackley was at the event and spoke organizers and guest speakers: