Camping is a popular summer activity, and some opponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are hoping to capitalize on that – inviting those who’d like to pitch a tent in a beautiful place to come on down.
Bill and Lynne Limpert dreamed of retiring here to the mountains of Bath County -- the second least populous county in the state. Nine years ago they bought 120-acres of rugged terrain and ancient trees. It seemed impossible that development would encroach on their quiet way of life, but then they got a letter from Dominion asking to purchase a right-of way for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
"It was February 12, 2016," Bill recalls. "I didn't sleep a lot that night. I can tell you that. What is now Miracle Ridge with the biggest trees you've ever seen in your life and gives you a spiritual feeling as you walk through them would become a pile of rubble 3,000 feet long, right at the center of our property, and it's visible from our front porch and our bedroom window as well."
Bill – who is 71 – felt uniquely qualified to battle Dominion. He was once an environmental regulator for the state of Maryland.
“My specialty is pollution from construction sites,” he explains.
Limpert thinks Dominion has an impossible job in trying to install a pipeline here. For one thing, the slopes are steep and subject to landslides. For another, the ground is karst.
“And in karst terrain the water runs underground in fragile limestone channels. The first blast could collapse the channel that's bringing water to our well or our neighbors’ spring.”
And in his professional opinion, the erosion control measures Dominion has offered will not work.
"These are the worst erosion control plans I've ever seen," he says.
His neighbor, Jeannette Robinson, doesn’t talk about geology. For her, the heartbreak lies in history – a farm in the family since 1792.
"My ancestor fought in the Revolutionary War, and at that time the government didn't have money to pay people, so they gave them land," she says, fighting back tears. "We have a copy of the land grant framed, and it’s something that’s dear to all of us. "
Now, she and her husband Gary have joined the Limperts in issuing an invite – welcoming anyone who wants to come and see just what is threatened by a gas pipeline they say is not needed. Bill Limpert has studied the numbers for North Carolina and Virginia where demand for energy has actually fallen.
“The U.S. Energy Department of Energy says that consumption will remain flat through 2030," he says. "Our country has got an energy glut right now. We believe strongly that this gas, if it goes through, will be shipped overseas, so we don’t think that there’s a public need for it, and in terms of legal issues I really feel like if we have a just legal system this pipeline is not going to be built.”
The Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a non-profit that’s fighting the pipeline, happily accepted the offer to come and camp in Bath County. Director Mike Tidwell says a few people have come so far, but more will be boarding buses in Hampton Roads.
"The right of way is going through those communities -- especially some African-American communities that feel like whenever there's a sacrifice being asked of the community, often it's communities of color that have to bear that sacrifice," he explains. "You know these are folks who are connecting the dots too when it comes to rising seas and Norfolk flooding. 'Why can't I get my kid to the hospital when she has asthma because of the flooding?' They're connecting that to sea level rise and global warming,which is connected to the use of fossil fuels, including fracked gas."
The campout will continue through September 8th, and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network says it may inspire other remote communities to host similar protests this summer.
Dominion says it will use state-of-the-art techniques to minimize environmental damage and will plant grass over the 125-foot-wide corridor where it plans to bury the line. It also argues natural gas produces less pollution than coal and will spark economic development in Virginia and North Carolina.