Lewis County resident planning on selling historic farm to leave West Virginia and escape fracking
By Michael M. Barrick
June 17, 2015
Post Script: Myra Bonhage-Hale moved from her farm earlier this month to return to her native Maryland. She is among the countless number of West Virginians that have become refugees from the fracking industry. – M. Barrick
Note: This is the fourth installment in a series about fracking, (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas), controversial because of its impact on public safety and health, as well as the environment.
ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – Myra Bonhage-Hale, who 34 years ago found peace on her farm in the high rolling hills of western Lewis County, has put her historic property on the market. The reason? The planned development of nearly 300 fracking sites near her property. As she told the Lewis County Commission Oct. 6 in an impassioned presentation, she began, “When I came to West Virginia as a single parent to the abandoned farm now known as La Paix, I thought of it as ‘Almost Heaven.’” Later, as she concluded her remarks, she said, “As I leave West Virginia, with my 34 years of hard work and love and joy and friendship at La Paix behind me, I think of West Virginia as ‘Almost Hell.’ La Paix is for sale. La Paix means peace. I plan to take it with me. The powers that be will not let me keep it here.”
A visit to her farm the week before seemed to foreshadow her remarks. Along one of her walking paths, which has rocks with various small, polished stones embedded in them, one of the rocks was missing its stone. The missing stone said Peace.
Standing in the middle of a garden behind her home on the 110 acre farm, Bonhage-Hale offered, “This is who I am.” Then, alluding to fracking, she added, “It just seems horrible that somebody can come along and devastate this.”
Moving from her art studio, where she also stores herbal products that she makes from her gardens, out into another garden, she shared, “You could sit in the woods an hour a day for the rest of your life and see something new every day.” As if on cue, while she was talking, a number of birds high up in a nearby oak tree starting raising a ruckus. She and a neighbor, Barbara Volk, discussed the various species of birds that they could identify and speculated at what might be making them agitated. Determining it was too late in the year for snakes to be going after a nest, Bonhage-Hale speculated, “I guess they sense, too, that the peace is gone.”
Indeed, even the clamoring of the birds was disturbed by a helicopter flying overhead. “They fly over all the time,” said Bonhage-Hale. “I think they’re taking pictures. It’s very disturbing and intimidating. It is arrogance on display.”
The party moved into the living room of her home. A brief philosophical discussion was held. The prospect of moving was raised. Volk expressed understanding and Bonhage-Hale offered, “I don’t think we can stop this, but we can try.”
The next day, however, Bonhage-Hale registered her home with a real estate agent.
Then, a few days later, she was at the county commission meeting, inundating them with research about the harms of fracking. She said, “I have worked hard to make La Paix – its beautiful gardens, woods, wild life, 1890 Victorian Farmhouse with attached Log Cabin (circa 1850) – what it could always be. I was able to put my blood, sweat, tears, laughter, joy, love and peace into what it is today. We have had apprentices from West Virginia colleges earn credits in Environmental Studies, apprentices from Japan, India and elsewhere, a Lavender Fair for nine years, workshops, and serene surroundings. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006.”
She added, “Until just recently, I planned to live here for forever and be able to give its beauty to my children, Bill and Kathleen, and my granddaughter, Aijah.” Continuing, she said, “There is one way in and one way out Crooked Run. This means if drilling is done here it will be difficult for children to get to school, others to get to work and in medical emergencies.”
Pointing out that a surveyor for a gas company had marked the road with red flags, she offered, “So I have here some green flags – green for the earth, green for sustainability, and green for love that grows.” She explained, “The first flag is Respect. We little people, who only own the surface rights, who are here to enjoy nature, our families and each other – we don’t get much respect.”
She continued, “The second green flag is for Resist. Recent reports indicate fracking may indeed be more dangerous for the environment and lead to global warming at rates much higher than previously thought. It pollutes water supplies, kills wildlife and destroys the quality of life in communities where it takes place.” She then offered the three commissioners websites and other resources they could research to verify her claims.
She revealed, “Ohioans are beginning to realize that unconventional shale drilling uses a great deal of water, permanently ruining it for other uses. But what they may not know is fracked gas and oil wells in Ohio are turning out to be less productive over time, with more water needed so the effects of water usage are rising. Now, each time a Utica well is fracked in Ohio, over seven million gallons of water is needed on average per well. Cumulative effects are being seen, as water loss is expected to be 18.5 billion gallons in the next five years.” She also cited numerous studies that show that property values in other states where fracking is taking place are plummeting.
Her third flag was for Renew. “This is what we could be doing instead – for clean energy, for eco tourism and for a sustainable economy. Pointing to another study released just the previous week, she revealed, “Solar energy could the be largest source of global electricity by 2050, ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear, according to two new reports by the International Energy Agency (IEA).” She continued, “We are destroying our landscape in the name of quick profits for a few people.”
As she concluded her presentation to the commissioners, she momentarily lost her composure. Turning from the podium, her voice quivering, she said to her son, “I need to get out of here.” While she was talking about the commission meeting room, her words were spoken with such determination that one sensed they had a double meaning. She was alluding, as well, it seemed, to West Virginia.
© Michael Barrick / Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.