Since the Civil War there always has been a Milton family here either farming tobacco or growing corn and barely to feed their cattle. Now, however, Herbert and Cookie Milton are afraid they will be the last generation of Miltons to farm outside this Southside Virginia hamlet.
Their 1,100-acre dairy farm is among 33,000 acres that would be flooded under a proposal by the Southside Electric Cooperative of Crewe, Va. The cooperative wants to build a $4 billion hydroelectric power complex on the nearby Staunton River. The Federal Power Commission has authorized a long-term reasibility study of the proposal.
The prospect of losing their land has outraged many farm families in this slow-paced section of rural Virginia. Including a member of state Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries. Environmentalists are also expressing concern, becausethe project could devastate Buggs Island Lake, one of the best landlocked striped bass fishing area in the United States. And Mecklenburg County businessmen are joining the protests, fearful that the area's tourism will be ruined.
The project, if approved, would place a series of"pumped storage dams" along the Staunton River and its tributaries. The dams, proposed on behalf of all electrical co-ops in Virginia, would flood an area twice the side of Arlington County.
The "pump storage facilities" would be reservoirs from which water would be released from one reservoir to another. The released water would drive turbines during the daytime periods of peak energy demand and be pumped back into the reservoirs at night. Reservoir water also would be used to cool a 3,600-megawatt nuclear power complex.
This system state officials said, will result in a daily water level variation of six to 10 feet in each reservoir. Such water level variation of six to 10 feet in each reservoir. Such water level changes in the relatively flat piedmont region would produce a drastic variation in the shoreline of a lake during the course of a day. A lake-front cottage might be at the water's edge at sunrise but a half-mile walk across mud flats from the water at sunset.
Charlotte, Halifax, and Campbell would be the three counties most affected.
"I'm too young to retire and too old to have to move and start all over again." Herbert Milton, 46, said in an interview at his two-story green and white farmhouse outside Phenix. As an American Flag fluttered from the pillar of the front porch outside, he said,"When you move a dairy farm, you can't just throw you furniture into the back of a U-Haul." Phenix is near the Virginia-North Carolina border.
For Cookie Milton,41, being forced off the farm means an unwanted change in her family's quiet lifestyle.
"It's a whole lot better to leave our children this way of life. It's a whole better than leaving them money. Farming is a certain lifestyle. You find more truly happy families in farming . . ." she said. The Miltons said they are wary of promises from the Southside cooperative that they will be reimbursed "at a fair price."
Those who are afraid of the project's flooding and potential damage to the environment are being pitted against some who believe a new hydroelectric power complex will be good for Southside Virginia's economy because it will provide some jobs and perhaps attract industries.
H. L. Nichols of Phenix who works at Bethe's Exxon Station outside the city, is one who thinks the complex will be good for the area.
Pointing to two young men who came into the station to shoot pool in the back room, Nichols said, "These boys, when they want a job, they have to go out of the county." Construction of the complex will bring work, he said.
The project is necessary because the rural area served by the elctric cooperative will need more power sources within 10 to 15 years, according to R. V. Southworth, the Southside Cooperatives to assistant manager for operations and the liasion officer for the Staunton project. The need for electricity in the area doubles every six years, Southworth said.
Southworth stressed that the cooperative still is studying the project. So far, all his organization has is a study permit, nothing more, he said. He said about $200,000 has been spent to study the plan so far.
Southworth said SEC's first goal has been to see if the project is economically feasible. Now, he said, they are just beginning to determine the environmental and social impact of the project.
Dr. Allan Hoffmar, a member of the state Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries, already has studied the impact of the project on striped bass fishing, and has written a paper on it. Dr. Hoffman believes that because of the proposed project and its effect on the landlocked striped bass spawning process, "The landlocked striped bass would be rendered extinct, or at least reduced to such a diminished number as not to provide a viable sport fishery."
Hoffman, who is a surgeon in Danville, said that his avocation "is fighting those bastards" who want to build the hydroelectric complex.
"The people behind the project haven't investigated the magnitude of the project. "It's a monstrous project," he said.
Hoffman and others question whether the tremendous amount of energy to be generated by the project is really needed Southside's rural residents. They contend the cooperative's 25,000 users may be unable to undertake a $4 billion project. They feel the environmental damage may be devastating.
Several also said they are concerned that Southside cooperative officials are not telling them the whole truth. A recent issue of the cooperative magazine told its customers that bulldozers would be in the area soon to start construction of the project, alarming many residents. Southworth, said the article was erroneous.
Teddy G. Brame, 27, the owner of the Driftwood Superette near Buggs Island Lake, said 95 per cent of his business is from the tourists, and if the lake is adversely affected by the dams on the river, then he is against the project.
"If I have to depend on the local people (for business), I'd go broke. I lose money every winter. If they put it (the project) in, and mess up the fishing, . . . I'd have to find another job. If they put that dam in, I'll probably be rock bottom here, "Brame added.
Haywood Hamlet, a 33-year-old tobacco farmer, said, "Everyone has a goal in life, and you just don't feel like working for those goals if it's going to be wiped out in a few years," Hammlet said.
Southworth said he "fully understands" the farmers' concerns." I know it's hard to reimburse them for their land, and it's even harder to reimburse them for their attachment . . but these things occur. It's a fact of life," Southworth said.