The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, one Shipman family maintains, offers “nothing but downsides.”
Wisteria Johnson says records show at least seven generations have resided or currently reside in the mountainous area they refer to as Harris Cove, named for their family. Now, Johnson said, the family farm found in the cove could see a pipeline cut through the middle of it.
“The land is not just terrain,” said C’Ta DeLaurier, Johnson’s daughter.
According to DeLaurier, the family farm wasn’t always on the path of the proposed natural-gas line. But Johnson had a feeling they still could be affected.
“I just had a feeling it wasn’t going to end where it was,” Johnson said. “I thought to myself, ‘We’re going to get it. We’re going to get it.’ There was just that feeling in the pit of our stomachs.”
Currently, the farm lies on the route once proposed as an alternative that has since been chosen by Dominion as the preferred path.
DeLaurier said the family is one of many in Nelson County fighting the pipeline. In recent years, Johnson, her children and grandchildren have done everything in their power to stop the project.
The family has written to legislators and agencies reviewing the proposal. They’ve partnered with anti-pipeline groups and environmental advocates. They’ve accompanied surveyors as they walked through the family property.
With every piece of knowledge they’ve gained and each step they’ve taken to fight the pipeline, DeLaurier said their understanding of the project has been heightened, and they now can unequivocally characterize it as “a heist.”
As Dominion Energy, the company proposing the project, continues to try to work out easement agreements with landowners on the route, DeLaurier said the money the company offers isn’t enough to make up for what they believe will be lost.
“[With] an act that heinous, there really is not enough to repay what they’ve taken,” she said. “In my mind, there’s not enough money, Dominion cannot offer enough money in terms of what is taken — in terms of mental respite, the cultural piece, the environment.”
In addition to the potential effect on the beef cattle they raise, the family is concerned about negative impacts on the environment and water sources, too.
Perhaps most important to the family, though, is the history of the land that could be at stake.
“[For] my ancestors, to the four generations before me, I feel like I have to [fight] it not only for them but for my descendants,” Johnson said. “It’s my ancestors and my descendants. [We’re] standing between the [pipeline and my] ancestors to respect what they did to get [the land], to pay for it, to work hard to earn it, to be self-sufficient here and our [20-plus] grandkids.”
Johnson’s grandchildren, too, are involved in the fight. They’ve accompanied their parents to meetings with anti-pipeline groups and have seen surveys done firsthand.
One of those grandchildren, 14-year-old Ethan DeLaurier, is just as invested in the process as the rest of the family.
“I feel as though it’s stripping our family of what we’ve had,” he said. “The land is a part of our family.”
Johnson explained as she continues to process all the ramifications of the project for those in affected localities, including her family, she can’t help but think of the stories that developed in Harris Cove, where her ancestors — Native Americans, Jamaican slaves and Irish immigrants — worked and lived.
“To see [the potential for the pipeline] on this land hurts me like nobody’s business. I could start crying now because I see that vision,” Johnson said. “… When I go out into these hills, the peace that I feel — to be able to go out and touch a stone where my great great-great-grandmother ground corn to make cornmeal, [to] sit down at a bonfire at night and see the stones and the boulders that were here during that time, knowing that [my ancestors] touched it — it is deeper; it is far deeper and more valuable than the greenbacks.”