‘Hands Across Our Land’ event draws about 40 people in hard-hit Doddridge County
By Michael M. Barrick
WEST UNION, W.Va. – About 40 people from all over North Central West Virginia joined hands at 6 p.m. on Aug. 18th over Middle Island Creek, the longest creek in the United States and one that has been severely impacted by fracking and the ongoing construction of the Stonewall Gas Gathering pipeline through four West Virginia counties. They gathered on the “Rails to Trails” bridge that spans the creek at the entrance to this tiny hamlet, which is the county seat to one of the most heavily impacted counties in the United States from fracking.
The residents were taking part in a grassroots uprising that included people from across Appalachia and beyond opposed to the development of further natural gas infrastructure and the related extractive process of fracking. They were joined by citizens in at least nine states, from New York to Oregon, according to Sharon Ponton of Nelson County, Va. and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, a sponsor of the action. Other sponsors included the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Beyond Extreme Energy.
Wayne Woods, president of the Doddridge County Watershed Association (DCWA), explained the significance of the location, noting, “The park is located along Middle Island Creek that has been impacted by gas drilling in the Doddridge County area. We are conducting this solidarity action to let the fossil fuel industry and community leaders know that while we are separate grassroots organizations we stand with each other in opposition to the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure.”
As folks gathered on the bridge, he added, “I remember a few years ago I was telling a state legislator that we were starting a watershed group in Doddridge County and somebody that was with him just laughed. Well, we’ve accomplished some things, we’ve opened up the eyes of people, and we’re not going to stop.”
Tina Delprete of Doddridge County shared, “I’m here to try and make a statement. I just want to let people know that not everyone loves it.” Indeed, she saw the turnout as progress in educating the public. “Usually, we get the same handful of people. This is a good turnout for such a small town. More is better. And there will be more.”
Chuck Lothes of neighboring Harrison County pointed to New York State as an example for West Virginia to follow. He explained, “We all know that the Marcellus and Utica Shell start in New York. That’s a fact. That state is also tens of millions of dollars in debt. That’s a fact. Yet, the people of New York have found that the technology associated with the extraction industry and pipeline development is so hideous, so damaging to the people and the environment, that they said they don’t want it. They did this after long, detailed, scientific research. I want the people of West Virginia to do the same.”
Douglas Geelhaar, a DCWA member, echoed those sentiments, saying, “I believe there should be a moratorium on fracking until it can be proven to be done safely and the people it impacts are taken into consideration.”
Denise Binion of Taylor County, and a member of the executive committee of The West Virginia Mountain Party, offered, “The two-party system has failed the people of West Virginia.” She added, “The West Virginia Mountain Party supports a moratorium on fracking due to the concerns of radiation, drill cuttings and frack waste.” She was also critical of the tactics used by the gas extraction industry to rely upon eminent domain to build pipelines. “We believe this is not a case of eminent domain. In fact, the opposite is true. No public good will come of it. Only the corporations will benefit.”
Steve Hamilton, also of Harrison County, said, “I don’t think the pipeline should be built. There is simply too much danger. They want to take them through two national forests. If pipelines are so great, why not take the easiest route – the highway system? They won’t do that because it is too dangerous.”
Autumn Long, who lives in nearby Wallace, said, “This day of action brings together communities that are geographically dispersed but united by exploitation suffered at the hands of the oil and gas industry. Fossil fuel development is destroying our environment, impacting our health, and degrading our quality of life. By publicly linking hands across our land, we are demonstrating opposition to this exploitation and solidarity in our shared struggle.”
Ponton said the goal of Hands Across Our Land is to call attention to the plight of rural communities, to build solidarity and to make connections. She said, “Rural America will not be a sacrifice zone for the energy industry in their attempts to put profit before people. These grassroots groups and many others stood up together to protect the watersheds of millions of Americans from dangerous drilling practices, to stop their homes and families’ health from being put at risk, and to use their collective voices to loudly proclaim that their land will not be stolen by the misuse of eminent domain.” She added, “Our elected officials should listen to the people.”
Free Nelson founder and Episcopal priest, the Rev. Marion Kanour, wondered, “What could our world become if corporations were guided by environmental and social responsibility rather than greed?”
© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.
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