Advocates, witnesses remain in spite of Mountain Valley Pipeline project

By Madeline Pillow

The Rev. Morris Fleischer can look out of his office window at Newport-Mt. Olivet UMC (NMO-UMC) in Newport, Va., and see the path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). 

Once in place, the pipeline will cross Rt. 42 about 60 yards to the north of the church. Currently, the initial clearing for the pipeline has begun with a group of hardwoods already toppled to the ground.The MVP, according the website, will be a “natural gas pipeline system that spans approximately 303 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia — and as an interstate pipeline will be regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).” The pipeline will be constructed and owned by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, which is a joint venture with other partners.

This project will affect the Virginia counties of Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania. The sight of these broken trees has affected Fleischer deeply as the fight against this pipeline has been going on for three years now.

“I found myself having to leave my office the day that the crews were cutting as I felt my blood pressure rising from the visible destruction of the trees against the cacophony of the roaring chainsaws,” said Fleischer.

The church is in a central location in the community and while the pipeline will not directly cross the church property, Fleischer shared concern that the blasting part of construction could cause damage to the building’s foundation.The pipeline’s path has already affected a nearby elderly couple, as they had to relocate from their home, visible from the church, where they have lived for more than 50 years.

Due to the pipeline’s intended location, the 168-yearold church will be situated in what industry officials call the “incineration zone.”

Fleischer shared his optimism for the church building in spite of this.

“My guess is that since this church survived a Civil War skirmish and a fire in 1902 that destroyed nearly every structure in the Village of Newport except for the church, NMO-UMC will, by the grace of God, survive this too.”

What the pipeline means for the area

Because of its location in the community, the church has served as a meeting place for groups such as Preserve Giles County as well as for several community forums for local and state officials to hear concerns from local citizens and to share information about the project. Two primary groups have been actively working to prevent its intrusion through Newport: Preserve Giles County and Preserve Newport Historic Properties.

Fleischer said that Preserve Giles County has approached this issue primarily from an environmental standpoint. Sharing about the dangers that the pipeline presents to water and the local wildlife, the organization has also been working with Dr. Ernst Kastning, a preeminent expert on the karst geology* of the region.

Kastning issued a study about the dangers of positioning the pipeline in the region due to factors such as the steep mountain, the fragility of the karst and the county’s status as an active seismic zone.

Kastning’s study also highlights the potential threat to drinking water and the process of blasting on underground streams.

Fleischer noted that the lease on the pipeline easement will run out in 20 years following the pipeline’s construction.

“If the profitability of natural gas declines and the pipeline is abandoned, what happens to the chemicals that are used to hasten the natural gas through the line as the pipe itself begins to rust and decay?” Fleischer asked. “Will future generations have to deal with poisoned soil and the dangers inherent from contaminated water due to shortsighted, economic gain?”

Fleischer also shared concerns about the origins of the natural gas that will flow through the pipeline. Preserve Historic Newport Properties (PHNP) has approached this issue from a standpoint of immanent domain.

“How does EQT (a partner in the project), a limited liability corporation, have the right to use existing immanent domain laws for profit that were originally designed for public utilities?” Fleischer asked.

PHNP has also looked at the village of Newport and its current recognition by the State of Virginia as an historic community and what protections might be offered by such a designation. Just this past year, Newport was named as one of the three most endangered historic communities in the Commonwealth.

Giving Witness event

The “Giving Witness” event was held on March 18, 2018 as an ecumenical service to bear witness to God’s creation, uplift the importance of stewardship as people of faith and a recommitment to working for the care of creation. More than 180 people attended from the immediate community, across the commonwealth and West Virginia.

“Newport is in a season of lament. The Giving Witness event was designed to give voice to the concerns that have seemingly gone unheard by both federal and state regulatory agencies and officials who have given carte blanch to the Mountain Valley project,” said Fleischer who organized the event with another local church.

Throughout these years of protest, and this event in particular, Fleischer has found himself in pastoral care mode. As the MVP project moves ahead, Fleischer has shared that local landowners are angry and feel dejected.

The Giving Witness event seemed to bring attendees a sense of relief however. “Residents were finally able to verbalize and share their frustrations within a community of those similarly concerned,” said Fleischer. The event has opened up dialogue about holding another event soon as well as one in West Virginia.

Fleischer has found Roanoke District Superintendent, the Rev. Kathleen Overby-Webster, to be a great source of encouragement and wisdom along the way.

The Rev. Glenn Rowley, conference director of Justice and Missional Excellence, attended the prayer vigil in Newport. He said he was moved because he sees the people’s witness in spite of the pipeline moving ahead.

“Even in this small town battling corporate greed people are still holding onto hope in spite of a lot of reason to despair as the pipeline company is already clearing trees and some are being taken down that aren’t in the original plan,” said Rowley. “It was a great opportunity to see faith in action as the Body of Christ!”

United Methodists and social justice

So why are Fleischer and his church community so passionate about this topic? It might have something to do with the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church.

“All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation.” – UM Social Principles (¶ 160 I. The Natural World

For Fleischer this is all about loving what God loves.

“The Social Principles remind us of our particular place in the created order as responsible stewards and the importance of using our freedom and creativity to its benefit. We are all interconnected in the greater web of life — when one part suffers, we all suffer. This leads to other questions about our gluttonous consumption of energy and our incessant need for convenience and acquisition,” said Fleischer.

Moving forward, Fleischer and the church community will continue being a witness. Fleischer has a summer sermon series planned called “Overcoming Disappointment.” He will also be participating in the EarthKeepers training at the General Board of Global Missions in Atlanta this May. He hopes to share about what they have learned through their experiences and learn about more ways in which they can become better stewards of God’s good creation.

“This violation of our community will not define who we are and the good that we are about,” Fleischer said.

-Madeline Pillow is editor of the Advocate

*Karst is a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks suchas limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. It is characterized by undergrounddrainage systems with sinkholes and caves. ( 




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