Growing in Community

This is a repost from Casaubon’s Book, a blog I perennially return to for inspiration and deep analysis of the nitty gritty reality of living at Peak Civ. She offers an analysis of the hard corner our society has backed itself into  It encoI really like this post for its encouraging words of DIY, just Do It, there is support in your community, you must only find itur, using the right search light, of course.

 

Growing in Community

Sharon November 5th, 2009

I think the question of land access may end up being the central political issue of the coming century.  In both the rich world and the poor world, we’ve systematically deprived people of easy access to land.  We have driven up the price of land in the rich world by encouraging sprawl, and thus forced out agrarian populations that previous fed cities.  We have pushed people into cities in the name of globalization and industrialization, and claimed their land for speculation.  The system is no longer working very well – there are now a billion hungry people, and the bust cycle is upon us – but land access remains constrained.  The poor sent to cities who can find no jobs can’t go home again in many cases.  The moderate income people who need land most to sustain their families no longer have access to the credit necessary since prices were artificially raised.

As time goes on and energy and resources are more constrained, the anger of people who cannot access land against those who can is likely to be an issue – it always has been through human history.  We have pretended over the decades that land was no longer wealth, that there could be such a thing as an information economy, but we are still caught in the old material economy, where the earth and its resources are the root source of our wealth – and they are increasingly controlled by fewer and fewer people, who care little about the future.  This makes those without access angry indeed.

But as yet, most people at least in the rich world, do not see these issues as political – whether you can afford to buy a small house with enough dirt under it to feed your family regardless of the state of the economy is deemed to be a purely personal question.

So we are brought to the question – how do you grow food if you don’t own land, or don’t own enough land?  How do we get access to land if we are poor, or if prices are out of our range?  I meet people by the dozens and hundreds who want to own land, who are saving for a day that may or may not come – and it is good that they are. But not owning land is not, for most of us, the end of the story – but the beginning.  If you want to grow and don’t own, there are places to begin.

Whatever you do, remember that allies are the key to success – you can do many of these things alone, but you don’t have to.  Chances are that if you care about the beauty and food security of your neighborhood, at least a few other people do too.  If you’d like a garden, a few other people may never have thought about it, but would be glad to see one and would like to help.  If you are struggling with landlessness, look around you and see who else needs access to land – poor college students, immigrants, the working poor – all people who may well want to grow, even need to, but can’t do it by owning land.  Seek allies among the powerful – sometimes they don’t care, but surprisingly often, they get it – they care about food security, they just haven’t had someone pushing them to put it on the priority list. It may not be as hard as you think to change the zoning laws, to get that land reallocated, to resist development, to start an easement program, etc…  Civic engagement counts.

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Dendron, Va chooses its own future.

Cross-posted from the CCAN Blog

Dendron, Virginia, has more than its share of challenges. The community of around 300, located in the southern corner of Surry County, struggles with an outdated municipal water system, crumbling sidewalks and no major businesses within the town.

Prior to the Great Depression, Dendron had been a company town of more than 3,000, fueled by the lumber industry’s presence there. Private business thrived in a town that revolved around the processing and export of timber across the country. Despite its character as an industrial one-trick-pony, the town of Dendron had something to stand for, and an industry to be proud of.

Today’s Dendron little resembles that historic vision of the 1900’s boomtown. Largely forgotten by the industry that once supported a thriving community, and facing serious municipal and community problems, such as an unexpected $10,000 water bill, you’d think the small town would take anything at this point to give it an economic boost.

The Old Dominion Electric Cooperative assumed this to be true when executives within the cooperative approached Dendronites with a plan for a new 1,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant, the second largest of its kind in Virginia. ODEC presented the Cypress Creek project with the promise of new jobs, tax revenue, and the idea that one major industry would bring others to the cash-strapped community. Despite local environmental effects and immediate hazards to human health, ODEC worked to assure Dendron residents that they stood to benefit from such a plant’s construction. ODEC also assumed that they’d buy into it without any major hiccups.

The cooperative, which has endlessly dispelled misinformation concerning the proposed plant (see Hope for Surry Shines through smog, 3 June), encountered a major hiccup Monday evening. As the Dendron Town Council met for its second meeting to deliberate the adoption of an ordinance that would allow the coal-friendly county board of supervisors to assume the community’s zoning rights, tensions – and temperatures – began to rise in the small side room of the Dendron Volunteer Fire Department, the only building large enough to host the crowd of more than 100. Fans reading, “NO COAL PLANT,” undulated throughout, filling the room as it quickly approached capacity, and Mayor Yvonne Pierce called the meeting to order.

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No Coal Plant!

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Three weeks ago I was down in Dendron, Va for the town council hearing about rezoning the land this plant would be built on. Tensions are high there, and the town is really split, in an almost ugly way, over the prospect of a new behemoth neighbor at the edge of town. Stay tuned to this as it develops, it could be big.


Posted On: 6/23/2009

Surry’s Regeneration


How the tiny town of Dendron has become ground zero in the nation’s energy crisis.
by Peter Galuszka

Bess Richardson worries a proposed coal-fired electrical plant will belch filth onto her neighborhood, including the 250-year-old oak that shades her yard. Photo by Scott Elmquist

A gigantic 250-year-old oak dominates Bess Richardson’s white frame house in the tiny town of Dendron, population 300, in Surry County. Richardson, who’s lived in Dendron for 29 years, says she loves the town’s quaintness and neighborly appeal. But like a number of houses here, hers has a black sign reading “No Coal Plant” next to her driveway. “I hope it doesn’t come here,” she says. “The technology doesn’t exist yet to make it clean.”

She’s referring to the $6 billion proposal by Henrico County-based Old Dominion Electric Cooperative to build a pair of 750-megawatt coal-fired generating stations that could forever change Dendron, about 45 miles southeast of Richmond. Tall towers hundreds of feet high will belch pollution including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and mercury.

If built, Cypress Creek Power Station would be the second largest of its kind in the state. It would instantly become the state’s sixth-biggest air polluter, according to an official with the state Department of Environmental Quality. Coal trains would clatter past along a new rail spur from Norfolk Southern’s coal mainline to Norfolk. Water for steam would be pumped 15 miles from the James River and heated water would be pumped back into the river. Fly ash from the coal will be buried on the project’s 1,600-acre site, not far from the town’s well water supply, says Helen Eggleston, a Dendron resident who is a member of the grass-roots group Coalition for a Cleaner Surry.

The bucolic setting has become the latest battleground in a national struggle between electric utilities attempting to build new coal-fired plants to boost generating capacity and increasingly well-organized environmental groups that oppose them.

The plants are dirty, contribute to global warming and promote the destruction of Central Appalachia through mountaintop-removal coal mining methods, says Glenn Besa of the Richmond chapter of the Sierra Club.

Utilities say coal already provides more than half of the country’s generating capacity, and that giant coal-fired plants can generate great amounts of electricity more reliably than greener alternatives such as wind turbines.

Few people question the local economic benefits the plant would provide. If the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative gets the 50 permits it needs and construction begins in 2012, thousands of construction workers would swarm to Dendron. The plant would have a permanent work force of 200. Surry has a per capita income of about $16,000 — about $10,000 less than suburban Henrico — so the “tens of millions of dollars” the plant would provide would be welcome, says Tyrone W. Franklin, Surry County’s administrator. Nor is Surry a stranger to huge power stations. Since the early 1970s, Dominion Resources has operated a twin-unit nuclear power plant in Surry, just a few miles away on the James River, not far from Jamestown and Williamsburg.

Officials with Old Dominion Electric Cooperative declined to be interviewed and did not respond to a detailed list of questions. Its literature says the plant is needed to help Virginia’s projected gap of 4,000 megawatts of needed electrical generating power by 2016. The cooperative serves 11 nonprofit electrical cooperatives in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, located primarily in rural areas. It would be the cooperative’s first solo foray into coal-fired generation. It’s also part-owner of a coal-fired plant in Halifax County that Dominion Resources operates.

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Facing down terrorism in Appalachia

Below are the words of a friend Bo Webb, in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia. He is fighting to save his home from the real Eco-Terrorists: corrupt regulatory agencies and mining companies. Send this along as you see fit. Its been picked up by Grist and Alternet as well.

Dear Mr. President,

As I write this letter, I brace myself for another round of nerve-wracking explosives being detonated above my home in the mountains of West Virginia. Outside my door, pulverized rock dust, laden with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate explosives hovers in the air, along with the residual of heavy metals that once lay dormant underground.

The mountain above me, once a thriving forest, has been blasted into a pile of rock and mud rubble. Two years ago, it was covered with rich black topsoil and abounded with hardwood trees, rhododendrons, ferns and flowers. The understory thrived with herbs such as ginseng, black cohosh, yellow root and many other medicinal plants. Black bears, deer, wild turkey, hawks, owls and thousands of [other] birds lived here. The mountain contained sparkling streams teeming with aquatic life and fish.

Now it is all gone. It is all dead. I live at the bottom of a mountain-top-removal coal-mining operation in the Peachtree community.

Mr. President Obama, I am writing you because we have simply run out of options. Last week, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court in Richmond, Va., overturned a federal court ruling for greater environmental restrictions on mountaintop-removal permits. Dozens of permits now stand to be rushed through. As you know, in December, the EPA under George W. Bush allowed an 11th-hour change to the stream buffer zone rule, further unleashing the coal companies to do as they please.

During your presidential campaign, you declared: “We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains.”

That time is now. Or never.

Every day, more than 3 million pounds of explosives are detonated in our state to remove our mountains and expose the thin seams of coal. Over 470 mountains in Appalachia have been destroyed in this process, the coal scooped up and hauled away to be burned at coal-fired power plants across our country and abroad. This includes the Potomac River Plant, which generates the electricity for the White House.

Mountaintop removal is the dirty secret in our nation’s energy supply. If coal can’t be mined clean, it can’t be called clean. Here, at the point of extraction, coal passes through a preparation plant that manages to remove some, but not all, of the metals and toxins. Those separated impurities are stored in mammoth toxic sludge dams above our communities throughout Appalachia.

There are three sludge dams within 10 miles of my home. Coal companies are now blasting directly above and next to a dam above my home that contains over 2 billion gallons of toxic waste. That is the same seeping dam that hovers just 400 yards above the Marsh Fork Elementary School. As you know, coal sludge dams have failed before, and lives have been lost.

My family and I, like many American citizens in Appalachia, are living in a state of terror. Like sitting ducks waiting to be buried in an avalanche of mountain waste, or crushed by a falling boulder, we are trapped in a war zone within our own country.

In 1968, I served my country in Vietnam as part of the 1st Battalion 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. As you know, Appalachians have never failed to serve our country; our mountain riflemen stood with George Washington at the surrender of the British in Yorktown. West Virginia provided more per capita soldiers for the Union during the Civil War than any other state; we have given our blood for every war since.

We have also given our blood for the burden of coal in these mountains. My uncle died in the underground mines at the age of 17; another uncle was paralyzed from an accident. My dad worked in an underground mine. Many in my family have suffered from black-lung disease.

These mountains are our home. My family roots are deep in these mountains. We homesteaded this area in the 1820s. This is where I was born. This is where I will die.

On Jan. 15, 1972, U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller made a speech at Morris Harvey College. He declared: “The government has turned its back on the many West Virginians who have borne out of their property and out of their pocketbook the destructive impact of strip-mining. We hear that the governor once claimed to have wept as he flew over the strip mine devastation of our state. Now it’s the people who weep.”

Our state government has turned its back on us in 2009.

Peachtree is but one of hundreds of Appalachian communities that are being bombed. Our property has been devalued to worthlessness. Our neighbors put their kids to bed at night with the fear of being crushed or swept away in toxic sludge. And the outside coal industries continue their criminal activity through misleading and false ads.

Mr. President, when I heard you talk during your campaign stops, it made me feel like there was hope for Peachtree and the Coal River Valley of West Virginia. Hope for me and my family.

Abraham Lincoln wrote that we cannot escape history: “The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.”

I beg you to re-light our flame of hope and honor and immediately stop the coal companies from blasting so near our homes and endangering our lives. As you have said, we must find another way than blowing off the tops of our mountains. We must end mountaintop removal.

I also ask you to please put an end to these dangerous toxic-sludge dams.

With utmost respect, yours truly,

Bo Webb
Naoma, W.V.