Opponents of the formidable Dominion Energy’s plans to construct compressor station in a predominantly African-American community in Buckingham County joined forces Friday in Richmond to protest the natural gas conduit that will run 550 miles between West Virginia and eastern North Carolina.
Many of those who participated in the hourlong rally on May 17 in a park atop the picturesque James River traveled from the tight-knit Union Hill enclave in Buckingham County, where tempers have flared now for several years over the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline slated to run through their community.
“We’ve been fighting this thing forever,” said the Rev. Paul Wilson, 66, pastor of the county’s Union Grove Baptist Church.
Wilson strongly believes his community, built at the hands of emancipated slaves, has become the sacrificial lamb for the sake of the dollar.
“It’s been five years of racial injustice,” he said. “It’s all about the money and people have been bought off, paid off and governments have been shanghaied. It’s just been so much that is going on and we’ve been all over the country, in the national news, and in all kinds of media dealing with this.”
Construction of the pipeline began a year ago in West Virginia, and while opponents insist that exhaust from the compressor station would largely cast a negative impact on Union Hill’s low-income and elderly residents, supporters counter that the pipeline will enhance area development.
To that end, Dominion Energy maintains that in addition to an abundance of land for sale in the area, Union Hill’s location for the pipeline’s 54,000-horsepower compressor station was chosen because of its intersection with an existing pipeline the community.
“We still breathe clean, fresh air and we have water from our springs, and we’ve become used to that,” said John Laury, a 70-something who grew up on his grandfather’s farm in Union Hill.
Laury, an associate pastor at Union Grove, said he came back after a stint in the military because he liked the community’s rolling hills.
“All was well until I received word from the board of supervisors, who were voting on this monster of a special-use permit to build the compressor station,” he recalled. “But this thing came in illegally. The community spoke at different hearings, but our voices were not heard. The population was lied about, and the history, as well of the culture of the community, was ignored. Everything was erased for the purpose of bringing in this compressor station, and the entire idea was a lie, all for the sake of industry.”
In his closing comments that elicited a thunderous round of applause from the audience of about 200 supporters, Laury said that regardless of President Donald Trump’s inclinations, “renewed energy has to come forward and fossil fuel has to go out.”
Andrew Tyler, 60, a Native American from Richmond, Virginia, also weighed in, saying he supported the rally because of its theme of environmental justice and racism.
“People have forgotten that environmental racism is not a new thing to happen to the people of Virginia,” Tyler said. “It’s happened since 1492, and my people have been on the bad end of this kind of racism since that time. We, like the residents of Union Hill refuse to go quietly into the night. We’re reclaiming our lands — and one of the ways to do that, is tell developers like Dominion Energy that our homes, businesses and church stand on the backbone of our ancestors.”
Tyler said that overall, his message of opposition is to Gov. Ralph Northam, who’s rallied support of the pipeline.
“Right now, ground water around the drill sites is unusable,” he said. “People can’t drink it, they can’t bathe in it, they can’t nourish their livestock with it, so when Gov. Northam supports this project, he is causing great harm to the people of Union Hill.”
Earlier this year, as part of an environmental justice tour, former Vice President Al Gore and social justice activist Rev. William Barber II met with residents of Union Hill, where Gore likewise stated that Dominion Energy’s proposal equated to a “vivid example of environmental racism.”