In the nearly four years since we began reporting and writing about the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, never did it seem unlikely that Dominion Resources would eventually get its way, ripping up our mountainsides, sawing through forests, bulldozing across streams and digging its way through the Shenandoah Valley.
Perhaps Dominion has its own version of the state seal, with a motto beneath a vanquished opponent that’s edited to read, “Thus always to those who oppose Dominion.”
If they do, it’s because they bought it and paid for it, along with the rest of our state government. That they’re willing to pay one landowner $360,000 to use his land for staging for two years is no surprise. That they’re reportedly willing to pay pretty much what any landowner wants for land restoration or spring for bovine medical bills related to mistakenly munched boundary markers shows that either Dominion is the best of neighbors, or that the costs to create the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are just chump change compared to the profits they’ll reap once it’s done. We tend to think it’s the latter, making us the chumps.
But they’ve created something else, unintentionally. Their project has given rise to a group of citizen activists who are not likely to stand down any time soon. Take for example Saturday’s gathering of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a group that is determined to hold Dominion responsible for its tepid environmental promises, even if the official regulators don’t have the stomaches or wherewithal to do it themselves. Others fought to a rare victory this week in a zoning battle over an ill-placed work yard along a busy state highway in a rural agricultural area. Dominion could appeal, or just decide to drop cash on someone else with land nearby.
These activists have flexed their muscle before, most notably in the “megasite” land use controversy of the early 2000s. In that episode, duplicitous county officials were proposing controlled growth and small, diversified development in public while secretly courting a major auto company whose plant, were they to land it, would forever change the character of the Valley. The activists, in one instance riding tractors to the government center, called them out.
But that battle was just a warmup for the current fight with Dominion. Activists’ numbers have grown and their leadership is more sophisticated. And there’s no sign they’re going away, which is a good thing as Dominion’s plans move forward. Someone needs to be watching, and we have no confidence that the state agencies will assure that Dominion’s promises, as weak as they have been, actually line up with their actions.
People such as Nancy Sorrells and Rick Webb have only burnished their leadership skills. Followers capable of holding Dominion accountable are a community treasure.
We’re clearly at a point in time where citizen activism is needed to safeguard the general public and fight for justice. We see it locally and nationally.
Through this process, our community has become more capable and able to answer whatever challenge comes next.