The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline is proving to be an incredibly divisive subject not only for gubernatorial candidates, but also local activists and artists. The sounds of construction of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, or ACP, are being matched by the sounds of boots and songs from a local group of activists. “Walking the Line: Into the Heart of Virginia“ is raising awareness and bringing peaceful resistance against the ACP.
The project is a collaboration with local artists, activists, or hybrids of the two, called artivists, mostly out of Albemarle and Highland counties. Landowners affected by the pipeline plans, artists, resistance groups, and many other individuals have come together to walk the 150-mile long path that stretches across five counties, starting in Highland County June 17 and ending in Buckingham County July 2.
“The genesis for the idea came from a very small group of newly formed activists called “Cville Rising”. They wanted to go out and put the feet and the boots on the ground along the pipeline,” said Kay Leigh Ferguson, an organizer and a leader in ARTivism, a Charlottesville-based artistic resistance group.
Ferguson said both artists and activists can come together, each bringing something different to the table.
“There are skills that the artists can bring to the activists and vice versa,” she said. She added that in a “post-fact” era, individual messages strung together with a common thread between them is what really gets people listening.
“This is the kind of message that the arts are particularly good at forming and communicating. The pipeline issues are complex and they cover legal, political, geological, geographical, scientific. While we are trying to shape heart messages, we also want to be accurate,” Ferguson said.
According to Dominion Energy’s website, the ACP will be developed, constructed, and operated by a conglomeration of four major, regionally-based energy companies: Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.
Dominion Energy’s website boasts an extensive list of facts and resources for the proposed pipeline, including economic benefits (job creation, consumer savings, and energy security), as well as ecological claims, such as cleaner air and backup energy services when wind and solar are unavailable.
The ACP’s website adds that the underground natural gas pipeline will transport locally-produced, clean-burning natural gas from West Virginia into the communities of Virginia and North Carolina, specifically benefiting the communities that need the infrastructure boost.
However, feelings from locals and activists see the fine-print behind these claims made by the powerhouse energy companies. Ferguson’s greatest concern is water pollution. The headwaters of the James, Potomac, and Shenandoah rivers all begin where the proposed pipeline will start in Virginia, up in Highland County.
“This unprecedented 42-inch, larger than before, never before put over high mountains, will be constructed in an area where the geology is like Swiss cheese” Ferguson said.
She noted that the limestone-based foundation, which naturally filtrates water that flows across the valley, will be contaminated from the construction and subsequent fracked gas. She also added that this is the very water we drink in Richmond, which eventually leads into the Chesapeake Bay.
Other concerns from this proposed pipeline include gas leaks, explosions, temporary jobs which result in unemployment once construction is completed, the tax burden Virginians will have to bear, and more.
Pipeline safety is another concern. According to the ACP Safety page, The 42-inch pipeline is protected by a ½-1 inch-thick steel wall with an epoxy coating.
One of the few compressor stations in Virginia will be placed in Buckingham County, which Ferguson connects with environmental racism.
“There’s an African American community literally in a circle around this proposed compressor site” she said. “The compressor site is in the same place as former plantations. These people’s ancestors are buried there in unmarked graves.”
“Some of them bought the land before the end of the Civil War because they were able to buy their freedom,” Ferguson added. “It’s quite literally in that circle around this, sometimes 500 feet away [from the station].”
While local grassroots efforts have stepped up to voice their opposition to the pipeline, Virginia politicians have differed on their views on the issue.
Republican candidate for Governor Ed Gillespie has emphasized his support for the pipeline. His opponent, Democrat Ralph Northam, has not come forward with a stance on the subject.
Earlier in the campaign, Northam’s opponent Tom Perriello announced his staunch opposition to the pipeline.
Ferguson spoke quite passionately about the political aspect of this project, specifically in regards to Northam’s ambivalence.
“If you would have the courage to come out against these pipelines, and to adopt some real ethics and campaign finance reform that would shape Dominion’s chokehold on our state government loose, and cease to take money from corporations that you’re supposed to regulate, then we can talk about working for your campaign,” she said.
The participants and organizers of Walking the Line, including those of The Seeds of Peace Collective and Cville Rising, are using videos and songs, such as the group’s anthem “Sow ‘Em on the Mountain,” to peacefully resist the ACP. However, Virginia Democrats have hired a multi-million dollar firm from New York to combat the pipeline through media and massive funding.
Organizers are encouraging people interested in participating to join the walk, whether it be just for an hour or two, or for a full day. Transportation is provided to bring walkers back to their vehicles during the trek. Donations can also be made either online or by purchasing a Walking the Line t-shirt. The walkers plan on finishing their trek on July 2 in Buckingham County.