Mike Tidwell is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
Dominion Energy likes to think of itself as a classy supporter of the arts. The state’s largest polluter paid good money — your ratepayer money — to buy the naming rights for the Richmond Arts Center, after all.
So why is Dominion now asking government regulators for permission to destroy an entire museum of priceless masterpieces? The works of art, some 300 and 400 years old, have no equal in Virginia. They are located in Bath County. Dominion contractors plan to enter the museum, topple and shatter all the art, then blow up the museum itself.
The masterpieces are ancient Appalachian trees. The museum is a patch of old-growth forest so rare there is nothing like it even in the famous Shenandoah National Park. The Bath County forest sits on the property of Bill and Lynn Limpert on a ridge appropriately named “Miracle Ridge.” If you walk the ridge, you will see the Mona Lisa of sugar maples. It’s nearly three centuries old, towers 100 feet high and has a 15-foot circumference. It hushes every human heart that enters its deep pool of shade. A few feet away is a Rembrandt of hickory oaks, older than the United States of America. And then a Picasso of basswoods and a Van Gogh of red oaks. On and on these ancient trees go.
Dominion wants to chainsaw them all and dynamite the ground and bulldoze the entire 3,000-foot-long ridge. It then wants to lower the ridge itself equivalent of a two-story building. All this to make room for art’s opposite, something violent, ugly and corrosive to society’s health and soul: the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The proposed pipeline would run 600 miles from the fracking fields of West Virginia to North Carolina and then likely to the coast for export overseas. Price tag: $6 billion. Damage to forests, rivers, farm land, drinking water and the climate? Incalculable.
Which is why the Limperts are fighting back. They’ve invited the public to come hike for a day or camp for several along Miracle Ridge in Bath County and see the museum of trees Dominion wants to annihilate. It’s call “Pipeline Summer: The Camp to Save the Limperts’ Land.” The owners have invited Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to come see for himself that his wish for an “environmentally safe” pipeline is in fact a pipe dream. They’ve asked the governor to finally force his Dominion-friendly Department of Environmental Quality to require stronger water quality studies for each river and stream the pipeline would cross.
Dominion, meanwhile, refuses to back down from its extreme pipeline plans. No company in the United States has built a pipeline this big — 42 inches in diameter — up and over and along so many steep mountains between West Virginia and the Atlantic Ocean. To destroy the Limperts’ property, Dominion has to build a 4-mile-long service road to the top of 4,000-foot Jack Mountain and then use massive chains and winches to lower bulldozers and power shovels down almost cliff-like slopes to begin taking apart Miracle Ridge. On the Limperts’ land, Dominion workers and engineers would swarm the slopes like special military rangers on an insane mission, carrying explosives.
Dominion likes to call pipeline protesters “radicals.” People like the Limperts are extremists to Dominion. And Red Terry, the 61-year-old woman who spent a month in a tree trying to protect her family from the equally insane Mountain Valley Pipeline, is viewed as a fringe troublemaker.
But what could be more radical than blowing up Miracle Ridge? Dominion plans to take the tops off 38 miles of mountains and ridges for the ACP, in fact. All for a dirty fuel, fracked gas, that itself changes the chemistry of the global climate, warming the Earth. Red Terry a radical?
One of the first masterpieces Dominion would destroy on the Limperts’ land is a grandmotherly sugar maple that local people call Ona. It’s a Hebrew word for “graceful.” At nearly 300 years, Ona is older than the fossil fuel age itself. She was “born” in the early 1700s, decades before the British first began the widespread burning of coal to power steam engines. Now that same fossil fuel era, having baked the planet and acidified the oceans and covered the world with drilling rigs and pipelines, is coming for Ona herself, led by a radical company posing ridiculously as a defender of the arts and the environment. An environmentally responsible pipeline? That’s like the Vietnam War line: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
The Limperts know better. They’ve launched their summer camp and invited Northam and the public to see Ona and tour this natural museum for a simple reason. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” says Bill. “But a visit is worth a thousand pictures.”
Once you see these Rembrandts and Picassos, as I have, the matter is settled. And once you hear Bill and Lynn speak, at ages 71 and 63, respectively, you have hope.
“These trees are older than the fossil fuel epoch,” says Bill. “And we, as stewards of this land, are senior citizens, too. But we have every intention of outliving the fossil fuel industry. Us! We intend to stop this pipeline so the world can watch this long, dirty-energy chapter come to an end while Ona is still alive and so are we.”
It’s a bold pledge. But with Dominion growing so radical, and the public growing so fed up, it just might work.