April 14, 2015

Never Call Retreat: Thoughts on Wild Virginia’s Recent Atlantic Coast Pipeline Field Tour

By: William H. Funk

The View from Shenandoah Mountain

Last Sunday morning a group of eight Wild Virginia members took a little walk along the icy crest of Shenandoah Mountain in the George Washington National Forest. The sun was dazzling, the sky the deep gemlike pellucid blue that comes with the low humidity and temperatures of earliest spring. We hiked up a snowy logging road, just across Highway 250 from the historic Confederate Breastworks, accompanied through the stillness by the occasional guttural squawk of ravens spiraling about the void above us.

Chugging up the snow and slush, skidding back downhill every time we walked over ice patches, we talked of many things but chiefly one, the reason we were there in the first place: the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Dominion’s imperialistic land seizure is planned for this very place, a 42-inch-wide metal tube in the middle of a permanent 75-foot-wide clearcut that would carry natural gas, gouged by fracking from shale deposits deep beneath the industrializing Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, hundreds of miles to the Chesapeake Bay and to southern North Carolina. Along the way it would permanently deface the largest intact forestland remaining in the eastern United States.

As we topped the ridgeline we were greeting by an idyllic panorama of snow- laden trees and limestone escarpments stretching westward for miles and miles, interspersed here and there by the historic pastures and farmhouses of rural Highland County, Virginia’s matchless “Little Switzerland.” Silence reigned as we breathed deeply of the sharp clean air and absorbed the vista before us; only four hours from the boiling hive of the nation’s capitol, we could as easily have been in Alaska. The one feeling I recall from that moment was of an aching sense of responsibility, of an unconditional refusal to have this paradisiacal panorama stripped for all time from my friends and me.

What’s at Stake?

There are plenty of logical reasons to oppose the pipeline, all of them empirically listed by Wild Virginia:

-The fragile woodlands around Signal Corps Knob and Shenandoah Mountain would be permanently defaced, split in half and forever fragmented.

– The proposed route would negatively impact federally designated wilderness and potential wilderness areas, permanently removing the latter from achieving a wilderness designation.

– Many rare species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act such as the Cow Knob salamander are barely hanging on to existence as it is, and the pipeline would only accelerate their path to oblivion.

– The George Washington National Forest is a regional treasure for camping, hiking, climbing, hunting and fishing, with some of the best habitat for native brook trout left in the East.

-The Forest contains invaluable headwaters for rivers that supply millions of downstream communities with drinking water; pipeline leakage and contamination, streamside erosion and resulting sedimentation, and the permanent destruction of riparian habitat would inevitably occur both during construction and maintenance of the pipeline.

– Among the shifting routes that Dominion has announced (their blasé, lordly decree unveiling the pipeline proposal last spring was surely the most inept rollout since the Affordable Care Act), the pipeline would pass near Georgia Camp, a Civil War site that has not been fully surveyed and which may well contain priceless historical artifacts.

– The pipeline would be a permanent threat and burden to the health and safety of the people, towns, cities, farms, historic sites, critical wildlife habitat and water supplies along its path.

Condemning Public Land for Private Profit

Dominion—an apt name given the company’s hubristic policies—has sued nearly 100 Virginia landowners for “permission” to trespass on their property to survey potential routes, a brazen tactic fully endorsed by a conservative Virginia legislature that allegedly prides itself on championing landowners and private property rights, demonstrating that “conservative” and “conservation” can spring from the same word yet be miles apart when a multi-billion dollar extractive industry comes knocking. Even our self-proclaimed environmentalist governor, an old-time liberal hack of the Clintonian mindset with regard to political expediency, was an early supporter of Dominion’s machinations, proving yet again that in politics money trumps absolutely everything. The Shenandoah Valley, magnificently placed between protected public lands on either side of its bucolic countryside, has been known for centuries as one of the most lovely, productive and historic regions of the United States. The pipeline would permanently deface a national treasure by industrializing this magnificent forest and some of the most fruitful farmland on earth.

Let them run their silly pipeline along an interstate or a railroad, existing industrial pathways that would be more easily serviced and monitored than a route hacked through forests and family farms. Let Dominion charge its consumers—including, inescapably in this monopolistic industry, myself—a few extra bucks per month if the company’s shareholders are unwilling to do the right thing themselves. Better yet, Dominion should throw their ALC money at promoting and providing renewable energy for Virginia and North Carolina and keep as much of our carbon resources as we can in the ground and out of the air.

Those of us who care deeply about this irreplaceable forest named for the father of our country will never accede to the belligerent seizure of private property and public assets that this pipeline would entail.