Battlelines Shift, the War Goes On

I learned from a local reporter that there would be big news for Floyd yesterday afternoon. My hope was to hear that the Mountain Valley pipeline had been cancelled.

Instead the news was that the pipeline would be routed north of our county. I did not immediately do a happy dance.

My first impulse was caution. Could this even be believed, considering the duplicitous games the big utilities have played with communities all across the nation?

And if true, how happy, how relieved could I allow myself to be?Another community was doomed to suffer what–presumably–had now passed over Floyd, by a matter of sheer corporate calculation.

As I write on the morning of the day after, it begins to sink in that the threat has passed–for now. I am happy to not have the burden of this dragon breathing down our necks over years of resistance and legal street-fighting before construction would have begun, followed by decades of right-of-way issues and the daily suffering sadness of a bucolic landscape marred by an industrial scar.

I am relieved that Floyd Countians do not have to live under the constant threat of conflagrations the equivalent of small nuclear blasts when massive gas pipes explode. But others will live in the shadow of that dread now.

Over the past three months, it has not been wasted effort: the meetings, the miles, the hours, the planning, the research and debate, the amazingly-focused creativity and networking within the Floyd community and between Floyd and near and distant counties.

Today, we know better who we are as a citizenry. We know what we are capable of if we educate ourselves and stand together. We know what it is that is precious to us because we have allowed ourselves to imagine the loss of those things and to rise with a unified voice in defense of our land, our people and our principles of community over corporation.

We have a renewed purpose in sustaining Floyd County’s reputation as doing things in alternative ways by in-sourcing our energy needs. Solarize Floyd! There are alternatives to “cheap, clean and abundant” natural gas that do not commit us to thirty more years of CO2.

In all of the energy and hours poured into this fight for the land we stand on and stand for, we have developed what I call “eco-empathy.”

We now feel like we have walked a mile in the shoes of those unmet neighbors in Nelson and Roanoke who continue the opposition to a pipeline and to all pipelines across the Blue Ridge mountains.

We have a clearer understanding of the relationship between corporations, politicians, national energy policy, and the workings of entities like EQT–one of the energy partners breathing down Roanoke’s neck this morning.

And here’s an interesting coincidence: the same day the route change was announced, news was plastered all over various pipeline-related Facebook pages that EQT faces six criminal charges for water violations–just the kind of potential failures to guarantee Floyd County’s future water quality that contributed in no small part to opposition to the pipeline. The same water concerns now fall on the other counties in the path of this cultural and environmental insult.

Know this: Southwest Virginia has grown heart, brain and muscle in this brief initial skirmish. Our shared vision of the future we desire is clearer now. We see wider and deeper over the energy and environmental landscape than we did just months ago.

We have been forced by this threat to comprehend the broad and lasting damage that extractive, carbon-based energy tyranny brings to places and to people with names–communities like yours and mine that bear the risk but don’t share in the profit.

Funny how things work out. After months of effort and planning, the evening before the route change, Preserve Floyd had its first meeting as a 501c3 non-profit organization, conceived and established as an environmental advocacy and education entity. Threats to our water and way of life can take many future forms. We will be ready.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Fred- This shift looks like a minor change to me- justa shift onto your neighbors. Do you have any more information on the newly proposed route that I could track through the RT?

  2. Although we may have won the battle in Floyd County and can sigh a huge bit of relief that it is out of our immediate way and not affecting our delicate fractured earth and headwaters of this plateau, there is still the poisoning monster in our society which is simply going to prey on folks, targeting those who are more complacent than we obviously were… who lead different lives and are less concerned nor aware with what gets built in their surroundings. So we merely won a battle but have not won the war and the criminals are still at large and the danger is still eminent.

  3. For the moment we are savoiring this sweet victory! But we are greedy for more victories and want to see the demise of the Fracked Gas pipeline–Mountain Valley Pipeline–before it is born. May this Fracked Gas pipeline never see the light of day…

  4. Perhaps, with any luck, Roanoke County can get it pushed into Botetourt, who can push it into Rockbridge, who can push it into …

    Who knows? Perhaps it can be push all the way to DC. And then maybe something would get done.

    In the meantime, at least we can celebrate this minor NIMBY, but as long as it is planned for this side of the top of Bent Mountain we must have some concerns about the water.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this. I had the exact same reaction. Not in ANYONES back yard.

  6. Congratulations Floyd. It is a bittersweet feeling every time these pipelines are moved from one community or one backyard to another. Relief that the inordinate stress that you or your community is living under is gone but a sense of frustration and maybe even guilt that it has now just been moved somewhere else.

    We must continue to fight to stop these pipelines not just move them. I know the folks in Floyd are committed to do just that. Whether in Lancaster, Pa or Nelson County, VA, we stand together to ensure that our property rights, quality of life, and safety are not just bulldozed and buried by corporate profiteers who just see us as faceless objects blocking their path to fortune.

    Your friend in Nelson

  7. Even for those whose vision has been clouded by a false if genuine hope that shale gas meant jobs, prosperity and the way ahead, it is becoming clear that the cost is too high, the payoff too brief, and that the 99% who bear the risks and the damages to their lives and lands are not better off for their unwilling sacrifice.

    Our job is to open wide the doors of the Emperor’s empty closet and make accountable and expose BY NAME those who have been willing to take mountaintops and poison our water for their own profit and power.