In fight against pipe­line, moun­tain for­est be­comes a class­room camp

Do­min­ion En­ergy wants to cut down trees for route

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY MICHAEL MARTZ

As Mir­a­cle Ridge rises to­ward its peak on Jack Moun­tain, the rem­nants of a wire fence di­vide the moun­tain be­tween lower slopes where cows once pas­tured and a high, nar­row spine of vir­gin for­est.

The trees — mostly oak and hick­ory — aren’t as big as the mas­sive sugar maples on the lower slopes, but they’re just as old, sur­viv­ing hun­dreds of years on shal­low, rocky soil in high winds.

Log­gers haven’t touched this for­est, nor have non-na­tive plants in­vaded what Vir­ginia’s Di­vi­sion of Nat­u­ral Her­itage has de­clared a con­ser­va­tion site of “very high sig­nif­i­cance.”

Now, the moun­tain ridge is be­com­ing a class­room camp in the es­ca­lat­ing bat­tle over the At­lantic Coast Pipe­line, which would level the for­est and more than 3,000 feet of ridge­line on its 600-mile path from the West Vir­ginia shale fields to nat­u­ral gas mar­kets in south­east­ern Vir­ginia and North Carolina.

“We an­tic­i­pate peo­ple camp­ing right where the pipe­line is pro­posed,” said Bill Lim­pert, whose 120-acre prop­erty in­cludes the moun­tain­side he be­gan call­ing Mir­a­cle Ridge af­ter he and his wife, Lynn, pur­chased it nine years ago.

The Lim­perts have opened their land to an anti-pipe­line en­camp­ment up to Sept. 9, about a week be­fore a sea­sonal win­dow opens for tree cut­ting to re­sume on the pipe­line route planned by Do­min­ion En­ergy and its part­ners.

They ex­pect as many as 20 campers a day to visit their land near Bo­lar in Bath County near its bound­ary with High­land County in the Al­legheny Moun­tains.

The camp is or­ga­nized by the Ch­e­sa­peake Cli­mate Ac­tion Net­work (CCAN), an en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion that op­poses the pro­duc­tion of nat­u­ral gas through hy­draulic frac­tur­ing, or frack­ing, and the con­struc­tion of pipe­lines through en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive ar­eas to trans­port the fos­sil fuel to mar­kets.

The first to ar­rive was Sam Wright, a 22-year-old Char­lottesville na­tive who grad­u­ated this spring from Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity with a so­ci­ol­ogy de­gree and a cam­era­man’s eye for com­pelling sto­ries about peo­ple in the path of a 42-inch, high-pres­sure gas pipe­line.

Mr. Wright came here as the ad­vance or­ga­nizer for CCAN, which has hired him as a sum­mer in­tern. He al­ready knows the Lim­perts from his work on “Trou­bled Wa­ter: Voices from Bath,” a doc­u­men­tary pro­duced in late 2016.

“It’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to come and wit­ness,” he said as the camp pre­pared to open.

Barb Adams, a long­time Rich­mond res­i­dent and ac­tivist who pro­duced the doc­u­men­tary, un­der­stands the camp’s pur­pose and po­ten­tial power.

“This is a great place to hear a lot of dif­fer­ent sto­ries about how peo­ple are af­fected” by the pipe­line, said Ms. Adams, who vis­ited last month to work with Mr. Wright on an­other project.

The en­camp­ment comes at a del­i­cate time, as the 125-foot-wide con­struc­tion cor­ri­dor for the At­lantic Coast Pipe­line is clearly vis­i­ble on moun­tain ridges in High­land along U.S. 220 be­tween Warm Springs and Mon­terey in the Al­legheny High­lands bor­der­ing West Vir­ginia.

Do­min­ion of­fi­cials met with the Lim­perts, Nat­u­ral Re­sources Sec­re­tary Matt Strick­ler and state bi­ol­o­gists at the prop­erty last month to dis­cuss ways to min­i­mize harm to the most sen­si­tive fea­tures.

“There were a num­ber of ideas that came out of those dis­cus­sions,” said Do­min­ion spokesman Aaron Ruby. “We are ex­plor­ing those op­tions in hopes of be­ing able to re­solve some of those is­sues.”

“We have not reached a res­o­lu­tion with the Lim­perts and the agen­cies, but we are work­ing as hard as we can,” Mr. Ruby said. “And it is a pri­or­ity for us.”

The Lim­perts’ land wasn’t in the path of the orig­i­nal pipe­line route, but that changed two years ago when Do­min­ion rerouted the project through part of Bath County in or­der to avoid the habi­tat of the en­dan­gered cow knob sala­man­der in George Wash­ing­ton Na­tional For­est in High­land and the Cheat Moun­tain sala­man­der in West Vir­ginia.

The U.S. For­est Ser­vice had re­fused to is­sue a per­mit for the orig­i­nal route through two na­tional forests.

In South­west Vir­ginia, the clear­ing of a con­struc­tion cor­ri­dor for the Moun­tain Val­ley Pipe­line led to a pro­longed con­fronta­tion this year on Bent Moun­tain in Roanoke County be­tween Theresa “Red” Terry and pipe­line crews sup­ported by lo­cal and state law en­force­ment agen­cies.

Ms. Terry and her daugh­ter, Mi­nor, oc­cu­pied stands high in the trees on prop­erty the pipe­line de­vel­oper had used em­i­nent do­main to seize for the project.

The Ter­rys even­tu­ally sur­ren­dered, but their stand, and sim­i­lar acts of civil dis­obe­di­ence along the Moun­tain Val­ley route in Franklin County, sent a mes­sage not lost on Do­min­ion and de­vel­op­ers of the $5.5 bil­lion At­lantic Coast Pipe­line.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“We an­tic­i­pate peo­ple camp­ing right where the pipe­lines is pro­posed,” said Bill Lim­pert (cen­ter). He and his wife, Lynn, (right) opened their land to an anti-pipe­line en­camp­ment up to Sept. 9, a week be­fore tree cut­ting would be­gin.

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