Activist rides Atlantic Coast Pipeline route in protest

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A Virginia woman is riding the entirety of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s proposed path on horseback to protest the natural gas project.

“If there is a time to fight, it’s now,” said Afton, Virginia resident Sarah Murphy. “That’s why I am doing this. The more I talk to people when it is under construction and it is being put in the ground, they are kind of unhappy. I feel like I need to be Paul Revere, letting people know down the line.”

Murphy is currently riding through Wilson County, where 12 miles of 36-inch wide natural gas transmission pipeline are to be installed between Sims and the Buckhorn community.

The 605-mile project begins in West Virginia, comes through Virginia and has about 180 miles in North Carolina.

Murphy has already ridden the pipeline’s path through West Virginia and Virginia, including the spur that runs from Northhampton County, North Carolina to Chesapeake, Virginia.

By the time Murphy arrives at the pipeline’s terminus in Robeson County, she will have meandered a total of 875 miles.

“I walk a good bit of it,” Murphy said. “It is always nice to stop someplace that’s horse-friendly.”

That’s what she found in Wilson County at Sandra Bryant’s house on Stotts Road Wednesday night.

Pastor David Barnes of the Cowboy Church in Wilson called Bryant to ask if she would house Murphy and her horses for the night.

“I’m always up for meeting new friends, especially new horse people,” Bryant said. “She’s protesting the pipeline that’s going through. It doesn’t really affect me. Some people have been paid pretty good money for just a little strip of land but then another friend of ours is really upset about it because they are doing so much across his property that he’s just not willing to work with them. If you are really affected by it, I can understand you being upset, but big companies like that are probably going to win. This is taking a stand or whatever, so she and her horses needed a place to stay and I was happy to help where I could.”

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy are the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s developers.

Murphy said small portions of the pipeline have been put in the ground in West Virginia and in North Carolina already.

Murphy’s horses, Rob Roy, 25, and UFO, 5, walk about 2 mph, which is a good speed to see the details that one can’t see driving past at 60 mph.

On Friday near Enfield, the horse she was riding got spooked by a mower and took off running. Murphy was thrown to the ground.

She was bruised but gathered the horses back up and kept going.

The journey has been dangerous at times. On Afton Mountain, Murphy said a tractor-trailer nearly struck her.

“We almost got sideswiped by a cardboard recycling truck, which would have been kind of ironic since we are out here trying to save the environment,” Murphy said.

“There have been a lot of times when I have wanted to quit,” she said. “Our maximum days have been about 17 miles. The average is 10 to 12, which is fairly comfortable without feeling like we are going to die. We did 13 yesterday.”

Along the way, people have been coming up to her on the road telling her their issues with the pipeline.

“It has been amazing how many people have jumped on board, even if they don’t have an opinion about the pipeline,” Murphy said. “They have still been supportive of us.”

Marvin Winstead of Nash County is a pipeline opponent who has helped Murphy.

“Sarah’s horseback ride on local roads parallel to the proposed ACP corridor is a unique and bold undertaking to call attention to the unneeded and harmful fracked gas pipeline,” Winstead said Thursday. “I have a great deal of respect for action and the personal risks and sacrifices that she is making in order to reach the goal of riding horseback the entire distance of the proposed project.”

Winstead has challenged an eminent domain claim by the developers who want to bisect his Nash County property. The lawsuit has not been resolved.

Murphy said the pipeline project, originally estimated to cost $5 billion, is $2 billion over budget.

“Projects fail all the time,” Murphy said. “What is the walk-away point for them? I feel like it is a David and Goliath story. I am one person. What can I do? Just remember that a giant balloon can be taken down with one pinprick.”