by Sharon Ponton
I’m a Democrat, been one my entire life. Have I become disenchanted with the party? You’re damn right I have — and the State Water Control Board meetings this week are a prime example of why.
I arrived at 7:50 am on Wednesday to see a parking lot full of Henrico County and Virginia State Police vehicles at the Trinity Life Center. Not a parking lot full of cars of those who were there to speak out against the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. Those citizen cars were there, even though the State Water Control Board had been scheduled in the middle of the week when folks directly affected had to go to work, but the multitude of vehicles I saw were Virginia State Police patrol cars and Henrico County police vehicles.
They told us they were there to keep us safe. Well, what exactly did they need to keep us safe from? Our neighbors? Our friends? The people we’ve been meeting with regularly in our communities to fight these damn monstrosities? I could call by name the majority of those who attended to speak against the pipelines. Folks I have come to know and admire from Franklin and Giles and Montgomery and Craig and Roanoke Counties. I surely didn’t need protection from any of them.
I’m certainly not a neo-Nazi, though that was one reason given for all the police – that they didn’t want another Charlottesville. As much as the powers that be would like to paint me and my friends as left-wing crazies, we’re not that either. We’re regular folks who have chosen rural Virginia as our home. We love the country. We love nature. We love working the land. We love knowing and talking to our neighbors. We love clean water and clean air.
I also didn’t need protection from the youth who attended the meetings – members of the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, the same students who came up and hugged me when they saw me, some even giving me a kiss on the cheek. They asked me how I was feeling because they knew I’d been sick for the past month with acute sinusitis and bronchitis. Were the Virginia State Police really there to protect me from them?
At lunch, I counted no fewer than 30 Virginia State Police officers lurking in the corners of the hallways, standing up along the walkway above the meeting area, or near the entrances to the “rooms” they had reserved for respite, I guess. I even asked one officer this afternoon, “Why are there so many of you here?” His reply, “Just in case.” When I said, “Well, what does that mean,” his reply was “Just in Case.”
Yesterday, they escorted out a Virginia Student Environmental Coalition (VSEC) student who had the audacity to speak too long….individuals were allotted 3 minutes each to speak. She wasn’t quite finished, so she didn’t stop. She tried to complete her statement. But oh my God, the chair of the State Water Control Board directed the State Police to escort her out—not to her seat, but out of the facility…barred from returning. Other VSEC students “snapped their fingers” in solidarity with landowners and experts who spoke. They didn’t cheer and cause a ruckus….they just snapped their fingers. They were told they’d be removed if they continued. Today, a Virginia State Police officer warned the VSEC students that they would be removed if they kept snapping their fingers.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe needs to be held accountable for treating his fellow citizens of the Commonwealth in this manner. These folks were there trying to protect their homes and properties from unwanted, unneeded fracked-gas pipelines. McAuliffe owes an apology to each and every one of those who attended these meetings. We will not forget this, Governor McAuliffe, you can be sure of that. And the next office you’re thinking about? You can be sure that we will share our stories of what happened the past couple days with all those who are willing to listen.
Suffice it to say, the State Water Control Board voted 5-2 to approve the Clean Water Act Section 401 certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, though those of us in attendance aren’t really sure what was approved, because Board members changed the language and refused to explain the outcome of their vote….even after being asked to do so.
If the last two days proved anything, it is that the citizens of Virginia don’t really matter. Based on what I saw, it seems that we’ve become a police state in order that Dominion Energy and their pal Governor McAuliffe can get that fracked-gas super highway they’ve been pushing for the past 3½ years. Elected officials beholden to the green of for-profit, monopoly corporations are apparently more important, than any citizen. Those of us in attendance at the State Water Control Board meetings received that message loud and clear – along with the message that our behinds would be carted off to jail if we should utter a word in discord with the wishes of the powers that be.