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The people strike back


From time to time, when I think it is of general interest, I will post here about what I’m up to as a local political and environmental activist.

When I bought land in rural Stokes County, North Carolina, and built the abbey here, I did expect to have some involvement in the county’s civic life. I never guessed, though, that at times it would seem like a full-time job. I’m now chairman of the county’s Democratic Party. Three years ago, Ken and I helped start an environmental group called No Fracking in Stokes. This group has had its hands full, and many people say that it is the most effective grassroots environmental group in North Carolina.

The scenic Dan River runs through the foothills of Stokes County. Its headwaters lie in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. After weaving southward into North Carolina, the river meanders north again toward Danville, Virginia. (The river is about two miles from the abbey.) A shale basin lies underneath parts of the river, and geologists think that some (though probably not much) recoverable shale gas lies in this basin that could be gotten out with fracking. This was on no one’s radar screen until 2012, when North Carolina’s newly elected Republican legislature, stimulated largely by banking money out of Charlotte that found its way into Republican pockets, became hell bent on dragging North Carolina kicking and screaming into fracking.

Last night at a public meeting in the little town of Walnut Cove, people were too polite to kick and scream. But they were mad as hell, and they fired high-calibre volleys across the bow of the Walnut Cove town board, which at its previous meeting had voted to allow geologists from North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources to do sample core drilling on the town’s property. Though it’s true that the issue had been on the board’s agenda and was posted on the town hall door or something, the larger truth is that the board was trying to sneak it through in the dark of night. A reporter for our local weekly newspaper reported it, and people were quickly up in arms. The next meeting of the board was packed. In fact, the town’s fire marshall had to prevent more people from entering the building. A bunch of windows were opened in the old frame building (which used to be a school for black children), and the overflow crowd was allowed to stand outside and look in.

A retired schoolteacher told me that, as a nervous mayor was opening windows, the mayor saw a sheriff’s deputy standing outside and said, “Are you the only one here?” The deputy replied, “I’ve got backup.”

There is a well established African-American community in Walnut Cove. They live mostly in two neighborhoods. The test well is to be drilled in one of those neighborhoods. The African-American community is angry because they weren’t consulted.

To make the situation even more dangerous, if fracking comes to the Dan River shale basin, it would be dangerously close to a huge coal ash impoundment at Duke Energy’s Belews Creek Steam Station. A breach of the 130-foot dam there probably would wipe out the nearby community of Pine Hall, and the ash would certainly spill into the Dan River.

Few things warm my heart more than people talking back to government when government does what big money wants rather than what the people want. It’s unclear at this time whether the Walnut Cove town board will — or even legally can — rescind its decision. But one thing is for sure. The people will pay them back at the next election, and the county’s Democratic Party will do everything possible to help them with that payback.

For those who would like more information on our environmental battles here in North Carolina, below are some newspaper links. You also are invited to join our Facebook group, No Fracking in Stokes.

Winston-Salem Journal

The Stokes News



















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