About the Lee and Washington County Chapters

The Washington County Virginia Organizing Chapter is continuing to work on our Anti-Hydrofracking campaign. Although we won a local moratorium until 2014 last year, the County Board decided to reconsider that vote and we are now organizing to fill the room for every Land Use Committee on this issue. We also continue to work economic development incentives as well as sustainability issues. Please join us! The Lee County Chapter is one of Virginia Organizing's oldest chapters. The chapter meets monthly at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Jonesville; Lee County Virginia Organizing members recently attended the state Power Analysis meeting and is continuing to make sure Lee County residents are able to access the Regional Drug Court. We're also working on education funding locally, guidance department and post-high school resources, and a local one-to-one drive.

Lack of Medicaid expansion poses a bigger danger to Americans than terrorism

Icon July 28, 2014 - 12:16 Published in The Washington Post Letters to the Editor, July 25, 2014 Regarding Petula Dvorak’s July 19 Metro column, “Lines of desperation: Once-a-year chance to get medical care”: Ms. Dvorak is right: This misery should not exist. Southwestern Virginians have been dealing with a lack of health care for many years, and I hoped the Affordable Care Act would help us get access to the care we need. Instead, without the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia, many working citizens still go begging for medical care. This health-care fight between the two parties is killing more Americans than any terrorist group could. That is not a record for the state legislature or Congress to be proud of. Denise A. Smith, Rocky Gap, Va.

Washington County supervisors to look at natural gas ordinance

Icon June 30, 2014 - 16:10 Posted: Saturday, June 28, 2014 11:22 pm | Updated: 11:25 pm, Sat Jun 28, 2014. ALLIE ROBINSON GIBSON | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER ABINGDON, Va. — An ordinance governing drilling for natural gas in Washington County will now be heard by the county’s Board of Supervisors. The draft ordinance had been in the hands of the Washington County Planning Commission and its committees and last week was pushed up to the Board of Supervisors by Planning Commission members. The Planning Commission did not vote to approve or not approve the ordinance, but passed the draft up the chain of command.   That puts pressure on groups seeking to prevent gas drilling — and hydraulic fracturing — from taking place in the county, and those who want to bring the industry into the county. “For four years, Virginia Organizing and directly affected community leaders have been working to make sure that property owners and residents of Washington County would be protected from the harmful effects of natural gas drilling,” said Sandra A. Cook, chairwoman of Virginia Organizing, a group that has been helping organize the local effort against gas drilling, in a written statement. She called the commission’s decision rushed, and said the move raises questions, including why the commission didn’t wait for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to complete its revisions on energy regulations. Beth Stockner, public relations manager for the Virginia Oil and Gas Association, members of which have spoken in support of local drilling, said that members of the organization have gotten the latest copy of the proposed ordinance and are reviewing it. The county has been in talks about natural gas drilling for years, but for the past year has been kicking around a draft of an ordinance that would permit drilling and fracking in the county. The draft outlines a specific area to be drilled — in the western part of the county between the Scott County line, the North Fork of the Holston River and Pine Hill Road — and states that drilling will be by special exception permit. Natural gas has been drilled in the county before, but no operations have been successful in the past few decades. Supporters of gas drilling say it’s an easy way for landowners and the county to make money on natural resources already here, plus get in on the current boom natural gas is having in the national market. Opponents say they don’t want drilling on their land out of concerns for what fracking might do to the water locally, and because they are worried what might happen when a corporation owns the rights to the land under their feet instead of them. County Attorney Lucy Phillips said that since the ordinance has been passed to the Board of Supervisors — without comment or approval from the Planning Commission — the next step is for board members to review the ordinance. Planning Commission Vice Chairman Bill Canter initially voted to delay passing the ordinance. He said last week that he feels the ordinance is 95 percent complete, but not entirely ready. He said several people have come to recent commission meetings to voice their opinions on drilling. “Most of the citizens know what’s going on, what it’s about,” he said of the ordinance. “We want to make sure the citizens are protected.” County Administrator Jason Berry said a first reading of the ordinance will likely be on the agenda for the next Board of Supervisors meeting scheduled for July 8. Phillips said the board could do a few things after the ordinance’s first reading. The board could ask for specific changes or send it back to the Planning Commission for more work, she said. They could also not make any changes and send it back to the Planning Commission to review in the context of zoning and make a recommendation to approve or not approve the ordinance. The earliest that would happen — the draft would again be in the hands of Planning Commission members — would be at the commission’s meeting at the end of August, she said. Then the commission would hold a public hearing on the ordinance, make a recommendation one way or the other, and pass the draft ordinance back up to the Board of Supervisors. The board would have to hold a public hearing on the ordinance — possibly in September — before any action could be taken. “That’s the fastest they could pass it,” Phillips said after outlining the process. The ordinance could be effective immediately after the Board of Supervisors’ public hearing and vote, she said, if it is approved. The Board of Supervisors would not necessarily have to hold a second reading on the ordinance. | 276-791-5459 | Twitter: @BHC_Allie |
People in Washington Co., VA face fracking fears

Washington County Chapter Opposes Fracking

Icon May 20, 2014 - 18:00 Published by WJHL News Channel 11 on May 16, 2014 WASHINGTON COUNTY, VA (WJHL) - By Allie HInds, Reporter Some Southwest Virginia landowners say discussions detailing the possibility of drilling for oil and gas is bad news. The proposal has generated controversy because it will involve a process known as fracking. Fracking involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to extract oil and gas from rock formations. Washington County, Virginia homeowners reached out to us to express concerns about the process, which they fear could contaminate their drinking water and their property values. "My home is the only asset we have. It’s all we have and if my water gets contaminated and I lose that, I’m going to have nothing," Pamela Davis, who lives the Benhams area where the Southeast Land and Mineral company has applied to drill. When she found this out, "I was mad,” Davis said. Davis and her neighbors are all on well or spring water, water from the same ground that fracking would put chemicals in to. "This just needs to be stopped. Before that first drill goes in to the ground the citizens of that area, if this is going to be permitted need to be afforded potable water," Davis said. But county officials say it's not that easy. How much power the county has to stop the fracking is still in question. "Our job at hand has been to try to devise an ordinance to control some of the things that they can and can't do," Washington County Planning and Zoning commissioner Mike Felty said. He said the company is adamant it won't contaminate the water but, like Davis, that doesn't ease his concerns. "My question has always been if they 're so sure there's no way they can contaminate the water, you know why would they not agree to out in writing they'll pay to get county water there," Felty said. Davis said through hours of research and trying to get answers, one question remains. "Once it’s contaminated what’s my recourse?" Davis asks. The planning and zoning commission will hold a public meeting Monday evening at 6:30 p. m. at the Government Center building in Abingdon to further discuss the issue and ordinance. Copyright 2014 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.

Landowners voicing concerns on proposed natural gas drilling

Icon May 15, 2014 - 14:00 Published by Bristol Herald Courier on May 9, 2014 By ALLIE ROBINSON GIBSON | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER BRISTOL, Va. — Some landowners whose properties lie in the proposed natural gas drilling overlay zone in Washington County have banded together to voice their concerns over the practice and ask the county to slow down and look at potential effects. “A lot of people don’t even realize this drilling is going to take place,” said Jimmy Hobbs, who lives in the zone, which is north of Bristol in an area designated for agriculture south of the North Fork of the Holston River, and includes much of Rich Valley Road. “Our concern is not about the money so much; it’s about saving our way of life.” Hobbs and several others spoke to the Bristol Herald Courier’s editorial board Friday about their concerns. Some are members of the Washington County chapter of Virginia Organizing. For nearly a year, the Washington County Planning Commission has been reviewing a draft ordinance that would define the area that can be drilled and set forth environmental and land use precautions to protect landowners, the land and citizens. Currently, drilling isn’t prohibited, but there have been no active wells for decades. In recent months, however, there’s been renewed interest. Hobbs’ wife, Leigh Hobbs, said she is worried about the potential effects of one mining practice — hydraulic fracturing or fracking — on local waterways. The process has been controversial for years and several cities recently banned it over concerns that the practice can poison existing waterways and destabilize the earth. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently seeking public comment on ways to disclose information about chemicals used in the process, which have long been kept out of the private eye. The commission is expected to vote on the ordinance at its meeting later this month, and then the ordinance will be passed along to the Washington County Board of Supervisors, which has final say over the implementation of county ordinances. “Our community in the Tyler District, our water is spring or well,” Leigh Hobbs said, adding that if that water is disturbed, there’s not a public water system in place to get water to residents. The Hobbs said their neighbor has signed a natural gas lease, and they’re worried their land will be force-pooled into a well, which they don’t want. “It’s disheartening that we have nowhere to turn,” Jimmy Hobbs said. “We’re going to be forced into this.” Neal Mullins, who lives in Glade Spring but has been outspoken against gas drilling in the past, said he doesn’t understand the need to drill. He said he and others have spoken to county leaders but feel they aren’t being heard. “If they could drill for gas safely” it would be one thing, Jimmy Hobbs said. “They’re being reckless now. We are going to look back and say, ‘We were stupid to let them destroy all the water.” Brian Johns, organizing director of the local chapter, said the group’s next steps are to try to get board members to look at current coalbed methane gas wells in Dickenson and Buchanan counties and see what has happened in those communities, as well as organize workshops about leasing land.

Christmas Carols for Governor McDonnell

Icon December 19, 2011 - 22:00 The 12 (well 8) Days of Christmas On the first day of Christmas my governor gave to me: Regressive taxation On the second day of Christmas my governor gave to me: Underpaid teachers, and regressive taxation On the third day of Christmas my governor gave to me: Corporate freeloaders, underpaid teachers, and regressive taxation

Social Security Cuts: Greatest Impact on Rural VA

Icon November 11, 2011 - 16:15 America's small towns would be hit hardest by any cuts in Social Security, according to a new analysis by the Center for Rural Strategies, posted on the rural news website the Daily Yonder. The review says that's because rural areas have a higher percentage of people who receive those benefits.

Shepherd Powell: Respecting Seniors, Protecting Social Security

Icon August 8, 2011 - 13:13 Throughout my eight week-long internship to educate senior citizens about the importance of protecting Social Security, I’ve had a number of conversations with older Americans that are totally unrelated to Social Security or politics. Mainly they’ve been about my pregnancy. I’m now 31 weeks pregnant and have been getting bigger by the week for the entire internship.