July 16–CHESAPEAKE — The protesters hung banners reading “Blast Zone 540ft” and “No Pipelines.” They wrote messages in chalk around a swing set and along a sidewalk.
A handful clambered atop heavy machinery.
As the skies lightened from a deep purple to pale lavender, long rows of pipes could be seen nearby.
Kim Williams, a Norfolk resident in her 50s, sat atop a yellow excavator. She held a sign that read: “Methane Gas = Blast Danger + Climate Disaster. Our Children Deserve Better.”
The mother of two said she was moved to tears at the thought of a gas pipeline running next to a school.
So early Monday morning, she and about 10 other protesters arrived at the site of a gas pipeline project in Chesapeake. The plan? To disrupt the workday.
Virginia Natural Gas is building a roughly 9-mile pipeline that company officials say will fill a gap between two supply lines serving Hampton Roads. The project runs from Salter Street in Norfolk, under the Elizabeth River and ends west of Interstate 464 in Chesapeake.
The 24-inch pipe will be installed underground along an existing Dominion Energy utility corridor in Chesapeake. A stretch is being built beside Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, between Border Road and Parkside Drive. That’s where protesters began to gather after 5 a.m. Monday.
“I’m doing it because I’m personally very angry,” Williams had said Friday. “I’m a quiet person. This is what I can do to be louder and maybe wake up a few people to start saying, ‘No.’ “
Williams said she has been concerned about environmental issues for many years. She is a proponent of clean energy. The project doesn’t directly affect her, but she feared for the lives nearby, noting the pipeline’s proximity to homes, as well as a city park and community center.
“What a place to bring the apocalypse,” she said.
Four young adults occupied another excavator. Kiquanda Baker, of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, walked around the site with her phone outstretched, describing the scene and narrating for a Facebook Live audience.
“All these brave folks have come to shed a little light on the matter,” Baker said. Williams, wearing blue jeans and dangly peace-sign earrings, threw them kisses from her perch.
Jeff Staples with Chesapeake Pipeline Resistance said the project represents a “remarkable example” of environmental racism, noting the route traverses low-income and minority neighborhoods.
Company officials have said the existing utility corridor is the least disruptive route for the new gas pipeline — and the safest. As of February, more than 30 eminent domain cases had been filed in Chesapeake Circuit Court by Virginia Natural Gas seeking permanent and temporary easements from property owners along the corridor.
Residents in South Norfolk and Indian River have protested the project. They have also tried to get the state’s regulatory body on pipelines to weigh in without any luck, according to a community leader.
Williams and her husband, Steve Baggarly, are both longtime activists and no strangers to civil disobedience. They care about issues such as housing justice, war, the death penalty and nuclear weapons, Williams said.
After petitions, letter writing and contacting elected officials have failed, civil disobedience is the “last recourse,” said Baggarly. He has been arrested dozens of times for protesting and was sentenced to eight months in federal prison in 2011 for trespassing on a nuclear weapons complex in Tennessee, according to Pilot archives.
“The law allows (the pipeline) to happen, so intentionally breaking the law goes straight to the point,” Baggarly said.
The first police officer arrived shortly after 6 a.m. Baggarly approached, explained what they were doing, and the two parted after shaking hands. Workers arriving to the site appeared to be kept at bay. Within an hour, at least eight marked police cars were parked nearby.
“Good morning, officers,” Staples said. “We come in peace.”
“We’re here to stop a bigger crime than just trespassing, officers,” Williams said, calling the site just one of many “climate catastrophe crime scenes” in the state.
A man in a hardhat told the protesters they were on private property, and police Sgt. Graton Cintron told them they needed to leave, or risk being charged with trespassing.
“I’m hoping to stay until 2 or 3 o’clock because I don’t want work to happen here today, with all due respect,” Williams replied. But by about 7:15 a.m., she and the other protesters had climbed down from the construction equipment — Williams with an officer escort.
She was the only one charged with trespassing and was released with a summons to appear in court in August.
The protesters claimed the morning as a win.
“Anybody doing anything anywhere is a success,” Baggarly said, as pipeline workers drove “No Trespassing” signs into the ground nearby.
(c)2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.