‘We are all Union Hill’

Published 12:07 pm Thursday, February 21, 2019

An event to promote unity and to address a proposed compressor station in Union Hill featuring speakers the Rev. Dr. William Barber II and former Vice President Al Goretook place Tuesday evening at Buckingham County Middle School.

Barber is President of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Gore is the founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit that seeks to present solutions for climate changes.

The focus of the event was to address the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) compressor station proposed for the Union Hill area of Buckingham County. The ACP project is approximately 600 miles and would span Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward counties. The Buckingham Compressor Station is 53,783-horsepower and is proposed to be located on approximately 70 acres of land along Route 56.

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The compressor station’s placement in the area, speakers said, could have a disproportionate effect on residents of Union Hill.

The event included music and speakers from the Union Hill area.

The statement “We are all Union Hill” was included on posters and spoken by audience members and speakers throughout the event.

Barber addressed the ACP project. He encouraged both Democrats and Republicans to turn away from policies relating to education, voting and the environment that would disproportionately affect the poor and people of color.

Barber described the support of the ACP project by politicians as “scandalous.”

Barber spoke about Northam and the surfacing of a racist medical school yearbook photo and that Northam admitted to darkening his skin for a dance competition in San Antonio.

“You can’t just say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and address cultural racism,” Barber said about Northam. “The real racism you must prove you are against is systemic racism.”

Barber spoke about the $5-million proposal from Dominion Energy to Union Hill, which would include constructing a community wellness center, funding for home repairs, ensuring safe water supply, providing grant funding for business opportunities and funding equipment and six full-time emergency responders to be stationed at the Glenmore Satellite station in Buckingham County.

“As the process moves forward, we will continue working to build trust in Union Hill and the surrounding community,” Dominion officials cited in a December statement about the proposal. “We have a profound respect for this community and its history, and we will continue working together to build a better future.”

Barber argued that the state needed to fund those programs for the community rather than Dominion Energy.

He spoke about an idea called Locally Unwanted Land Uses, or LULUs, when companies reportedly place industrial projects in communities that are disproportionately poor.

“If they thought they were going to get away with it in Union Hill, they are out of luck,” Barber said. “This ain’t no LULU. This is holy ground.”

He called for the audience to hold hands, and to demonstrate that a call for justice was not an issue limited to one race or class.

John Laury, who owns livestock and Irene Leech, who owns a farm in the county, spoke during the event about concerns relating to the close proximity of the pipeline and compressor station to surrounding properties and livestock.

“We are stewards of God’s Earth, and we are to take care of it,” Laury said.

Laury said the Union Hill area was established by freedmen, some of whom were his ancestors.

Gore contended that the proposed pipeline project could have environmental ramifications for Virginia as a whole.

He summarized the project as a “reckless, racist, rip off”: reckless in potential pollutant increase, a rip off in that he argued the profits could not offset the high cost to develop the project, and racist in the decision to place the pipeline and compressor station paths in areas with large populations of people of color.

Prior to coming to Buckingham County Middle School, Gore and Barber visited Union Hill and met with residents in the area.

“The church we were in at Union Grove had a banner above the pulpit … that said ‘stand for what’s right, even if you’re standing alone,’” Gore said. “We’re here to say to Union Hill you are not standing alone. We are standing with you.”

Gore spoke about the decision by Northam to remove two members of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) State Air Pollution Control Board prior to a decision about an air permit for the Buckingham Compressor Station. One member of the DEQ board who was removed, Rebecca Rubin, spoke during the event.

While Gore said he could not speak for any motivation concerning that decision, he and Barber said, “That’s not due process.”

Gore argued that energy industries such as solar facilities and wind turbine could bring more economic success and reduce the risks for environmental harm.

“If anybody doubts we have the political will to win, political will is a renewable resource,” Gore said.

This article has been corrected from its original version.