Community Organizing Summit Leaves Participants Warmed and Strengthened

By Cindy Ellis

The registration desk was loaded with vases of daffodils from Roane County as attendees arrived in early April for our co-hosted event, a “Community Organizing Summit”, at Jacksons Mill.  Our sub-theme was “Taking Action Against Extraction” and, after a hearty supper and a warm welcome, we were treated to an energetic lead presentation by Carol Davey of the Ohio Environmental Council.  This Berea College grad is uniquely positioned to understand embattled communities; her own childhood home was in the now ghost town of Cheshire, Ohio, where an electric company bought everyone out and removed the houses.

Our second Friday speaker was Austin Sachs, director and founder of Protect and Divest. Even those of us who shrink from talk of numbers and finances found his remarks clear and motivating.

Snow lightly covered any daffodils on the conference center grounds the next morning as about seventy of us—a nicely assorted mix of ages and genders— gathered eagerly to choose our morning sessions. “Starting and Building a Campaign—Goal Setting and Strategy” was offered up by Bill Price of the Sierra Club, while our friend from our previous Wellness and Water events, Jill Kriesky, discussed “Gas Related Health/Medical Effects”.  Jill works with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project.

OVEC staffers Vivian Stockman, Dustin White, and Robin Blakeman enlightened us next with information on media and outreach and on the ominous Appalachian Storage Hub.

We mingled with friends old and new at the long glossy tables in the Mount Vernon replica dining hall and then tucked into a smorgasbord of helpful topics and presenters for the afternoon sessions.  Angie Rosser of WV Rivers Coalition and Leann Leiter of Earthworks tackled Environmental Monitoring, while Justin Raines of Sierra Club led us through “Speaking Across Bridges—How to Talk with All Sides”. Allen Johnson of Eight Rivers Council hosted “Coalition Building” and Dave McMahon of WV Surface Owners Rights Organization tried to help us navigate the tricky words and concepts in “Fighting Eminent Domain—Co-Tenancy, Forced Pooling, Right to Trespass, and Protecting Your Land”.  Through these sessions, participants had offered questions and comments, and cheerfully undertaken role playing, but we had some energy left to attend to the late afternoon offerings of reviewing “Permitting and Enforcement” by Kendra Hatcher of Downstream Strategies and with Justin again, in “Community Canvassing”.

Allen showed us a brief flight of a drone and our dinner fortified us with lasagna and rice crispy cakes, so, even after a very long day of a terrific slate of programs, we had time for one more innovative demonstration. FracTracker’s Leann Leiter told us of their new Mobile App for in-the-field pipeline and all gas activity observations.  We dug right in and downloaded the app and found it a great new tool!

And that was the end.  Except that it wasn’t for some of us.  We opted to stay overnight and take the Pipeline Tour on Sunday.  We are grateful to county residents Diane and Rue who led our van over 80 miles in Lewis County to see the horrific octopus-arms of pipelines.  They also showed us expanded compressor stations and sites for new ones.  We saw streams with no buffering from tree felling, we saw logging operations that were obviously minimally or not at all regulated, and we saw scene after scene of lovely meadows and extremely steep hillsides marred and scarred by very large pipelines.  A new thought to some of us was that the companies will very likely use annual applications of herbicides to “maintain” the cleared routes of the lines.  It was a sunny day, but only the enjoyment of sharing information and ideas kept our spirits up after seeing the totals of invasive gas construction.

The weekend itself left many of us warmed and strengthened. Indeed, one new friend offered up this endorsement, “Thank you for an amazingly informative weekend that I got to spend with passionate and caring people.”

We thank our co-hosts, OVEC and WV Rivers Coalition, and all our members and donors for helping make this event a reality and a success.