Make the Best of a Bad Situation

Nelson County Times – Letter to the Editor – September 9, 2015

Flying across the Colorado Rockies to home in Nelson County, I am struck by a sad thought: I am not looking forward to going home. I live on Fortune’s Ridge in Wintergreen, just a few hundred yards from where a pipeline is scheduled to cross its windswept point. My feelings, though, flow not from the pipeline but from the rupturing seams of my Wintergreen community, from neighbors and friends divided on an issue no more grounded to earth than the plane that carries me.

I know of no one who celebrates the pipeline, glorifies any visual disfigurement it may bring or dismisses the inconvenience, indeed anguish, that those touched by the pipeline will suffer. But a pipeline is coming, and not for inconsequential reasons.

A pipeline is coming to energize an expanding Atlantic Coast economy. Absent a coherent national energy policy, the gas it carries will help reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. A pipeline will speed the demise of coal — the root cause of environmental devastation in Appalachia and that region’s shocking number of endangered aquatic species.

A pipeline will have global consequences, helping insulate us from the tinderbox of the Middle East, the aggressions of a gas-rich Russia and the long-term prospects of sea rise. And a pipeline is likely to cross Fortune’s Ridge because of the confluence of mountain physiography and the lay of public lands, both conspiring to elevate Reid’s Gap from obscurity to unwanted celebrity.

Mark Twain, upon hearing of his demise, wrote, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” I feel the same for my community. I have heard all the exaggerations, from the rape and ruin of the county to the end of Wintergreen to the incineration of my family and home in a ground-zero pipeline explosion.

There are ingeniuous people here in Nelson and Wintergreen, and I know some of them will expend enormous resources to build walls of lawsuits and protests around our county. Maybe they will succeed. Maybe they will prove there is a better path for the pipeline, or they will find an endangered salamander to block it. I suspect they won’t, and, if I am correct, I fear they will have damaged our community.

This need not be. I believe there is a better way than conflict, one that sidesteps acrimony and embraces a positive approach. We need to address the pipeline for what it is, not for the hyperbolic threat some claim it to be. It is an inconvenience and a visual intrusion; it is not the end of the world. It is going to happen somewhere, and more than likely here; it is an opportunity.

To date, neither side of the pipeline issue has done much to enlighten our community. We are information starved and propaganda swamped. Dominion is unnecessarily tight lipped or generalized, and affected landowners and local governments withhold the information we need to make good decisions.

Forums, to date, have been inadequate or lopsided. We need professionally facilitated forums where real issues are discussed and facts are presented, verified and weighed. If, for example, an alternative route exists, then geospatial and cost details of the route must be presented and Dominion must tell us with similar hard data why such a route won’t work. Face it, without good information, Dominion is going to make lousy decisions, and we are going to pay the costs.

Next, our attention should turn away from litigation to mitigation. By mitigation, I mean putting the burden on Dominion to erase the environmental footprint of the pipeline where possible, and, where not possible, working with us to identify compensatory environmental remediation. I believe Dominion has more to gain in the long run by making us whole. Also, we need to put Dominion’s feet to the fire. If Dominion is going to enter our community it had better be ready to be a good citizen and contribute its fair share to the needs of our community.

Finally, we must protect those who did nothing more than happen to be in the way of history and a pipeline. I am a staunch supporter of private property and individual rights. Both must be respected and damage to each fully compensated.

Information, mitigation and just compensation are a winning strategy.

I have confidence in the people of Nelson County and Wintergreen to make a winning choice.