Protesters rally near Cooper homestead

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NASHVILLE — In a bid to shake Gov. Roy Cooper’s support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, opponents took their fight to the Nash County native’s backyard.

Roughly 50 concerned citizens rallied in the Elm Grove community south of Nashville on Saturday to oppose construction of the 600-mile natural gas pipeline. Advocacy group Nash Stop the Pipeline planned the event with assistance from the North Carolina Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Live.

Organizers held the protest near Cooper’s ancestral home where the governor’s father and grandfather were raised. Cooper signed off on a key permit for the pipeline in January and negotiated a $57.8 million environmental mitigation fund that his administration would control. State legislative leaders say that raised conflicts of interest and passed a bill appropriating the money for education.

Marvin Winstead Jr., whose Nash County farm is along the pipeline’s path, read a statement deriding Cooper “for betraying the citizens of North Carolina because they thought you would be concerned about them and the environment.”

Protesters met shortly before noon and marched to both Little Sapony and Big Sapony creeks to draw water. Samples from the creeks will be mixed with water from around the state at another event planned in Raleigh on Thursday.

Participants gathered at the Community Light Pentecostal Holiness Church between the creeks to rest in the shade and take part in an interspiritual ceremony. There, several organizers and religious leaders spoke about the significance of water, while others voiced concerns about environmental risks and property rights.

The Rev. Mac Legerton, of the North Carolina Creation Care Network, led the group in a “water communion” and stressed the spiritual connection to water in the Christian tradition. Also on hand were several members of local indigenous tribes, including the Haliwa-Saponi and Lumbee, who emphasized the importance of water in native cultures. The names of other potentially affected waterways were also read aloud.

Virginia-based Dominion Energy and North Carolina’s Duke Energy are the pipeline’s primary developers. The $5.5 billion project seeks to channel natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline snaking through eight North Carolina counties.

Bailey native and Raleigh attorney Jane Flowers Finch characterized the pipeline as an imposition to local landowners and residents. Finch was skeptical of means and amount of money local communities would see through taxes on the pipeline. She said the source of revenue would be a state tax on utility equipment, not property tax, from which counties would receive a proportioned but indeterminate amount.

“Any calculations that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline gives as to how much money each county will get back is speculative,” she said, adding that landowners “will pay the property tax on the land where the pipeline is.”

Local resident Joe Poland was concerned about the long-term impact on the environment and the health of those who live along the pipeline route.

“Health issues are a major concern,” he said, adding that he worries about the “environmental impact” of such a large-scale infrastructure project. To Poland, the purported benefits simply don’t outweigh the risks involved, especially when it comes to jobs.

“Jobs will not be created by the pipeline,” he said.

Poland added that the project could be “shortcutting the possibility of wind and solar energy.”

While pipeline developers begin the construction process, those opposed to its path through Nash County and eastern North Carolina remain vigilant.

“They have the money” Poland said, “but we have a hope, a dream and a care about the county.”