It’s been a year since the state announced an agreement with DuPont – a company that allowed mercury to pollute the South River in Waynesboro. The firm agreed to pay $50 million, and this weekend the governor showed up to take a bow, but not everyone was cheering.
Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources, Molly Ward, told a crowd at Waynesboro City Hall that winning the settlement required the efforts of many agencies and local governments, but she saved the loudest praise for her boss.
“The one person who really brought this deal to a close, and, of course, is the ultimate deal maker and the ultimate deal closer, is Governor McAuliffe,” she said. “He used all of his influence in Washington, at the White House, and with the Department of the Interior, and met directly with Sally Jewel herself, leading us to be here today, and without the ultimate closer this would not have happened.”
Shortly before three in the afternoon, the ultimate closer stood up to speak. “Good morning everybody! Please sit down and relax! Great to be with you,” the governor said.
McAuliffe listed a number of projects to be funded by the DuPont settlement: Land preservation and restoration along the South River, water quality improvement, construction of a branch of the state’s natural history museum in Waynesboro.
In situations like this, it’s been McAuliffe’s custom to meet with local media afterward, but when he left the building about a dozen protesters had already gathered. “Save our water! No pipeline! No pipeline,” they shouted.
Faced with a controversy, McAuliffe ducked into his SUV and sped way, leaving Jennifer Lewis – President of the anti-pipeline group Friends of Augusta, to complain.
“I’ve never been pushed away by his security before, so that’s a new one,” she said. “It’s hard to sit here and listen to him boast about all the hard work he’s done to protect our environment, save our water when he’s allowing these natural gas pipelines to run through our mountains and our streams. It took them 40 years to get this deal of $50 million for contamination of mercury. What happens when a pipeline comes through and ruins our streams? Are we going to have to wait 40 years for compensation from Dominion for that?”
Sharon Ponton, a pipeline opponent from Nelson County, noted a lawsuit had already been filed to try and stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline and predicted a similar action against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
“ACP, there will be a lawsuit filed there too, because we’re not stopping,” she said. “We’re not backing down, we’re not sitting down. We’re going to continue to stand and fight, and they can just deal with us going through this process.”
McAuliffe has supported both projects. Of course, Virginia will soon have a new governor, but Rae Kasden and Linda Smoke weren’t hopeful that Ralph Northam would side with environmentalists on this issue.
“I don’t think he’s going to come through, because he never disavowed the money he received in his campaign from Dominion,” they said.
All agreed that the ACP and MVP could still be stopped in court, but Lewis noted that would be expensive.
“Even though there are a lot of landowners and citizens opposing these pipelines, Dominion has an unlimited amount of money,” she explained.
In the end she was putting her faith in civil disobedience.
“We can’t count on anybody. Our elected representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, are bought and paid for by Dominion. Our state water board, DEQ, they’re all bought and paid for. It’s going to be citizens standing against all of this corruption, all of us standing together, not allowing these bulldozers to come, and standing up to say we’re not going to let this happen. We can’t count on anybody else but ourselves,” she concluded.
All total, the governor announced $13 million in awards to agencies and local governments for environmental projects but conceded that wasn’t enough to fund the $95 million in requests his office received.