Thursday, September 17, 2015

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Takes Landowners Property in Nelson County

How would u feel?

Sally just retired to Nelson County Virginia from a grueling job at a Flower Shop. She was a Floral Designer for 40 years, creating floral masterpieces for others. Her specialty was the design of elaborate Casket Sprays which took a day to assemble. Sally was on call 24/7 awaiting notice from the funeral home saying that another local citizen had passed away. She was in high demand, in a small Southwest Virginia town, where Florists were far and few between. She worked every Christmas Eve, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and pre-week Thanksgiving. She worked in retail in a fast paced, high pressure, public job.

Once she "paid her dues" and accumulated enough cash to retire, she decided to move to peaceful and quiet Nelson County with her chickens and cats to keep her company. Her decision was based on how fellow landowners loved their land and preserved the natural state of it. Also, just to the north was Charlottesville, Virginia, touted in many publications as "the" best U.S. city for a host of reasons. She bought 6 acres of breathtakingly beautiful pasture land with a wooded stream and a view of undeveloped Afton Mountain.

One day after returning back to her home, which she had recently named "Peaceful Pastures", she was taken aback by a group of men with equipment standing in her field, She thought possibly it was a neighbor that had mistaken her new plot as their land. Cautiously approaching the group, she asked why they were on her property. After a short and unnerving discussion, it was explained they were on official business, hired contractors by Dominion Resources to survey her land for a gas pipeline.

Stay with me on this section, it's really not that boring!
After feeling helpless and frankly, in a panic, she reached out to Friends of Nelson County to try and figure out what was going on. According to Virginia law Eminent Domain is defined as "the power to take or damage private property for a public use, provided that the owner is paid just compensation. VA. CONST. art I, § 11. Using this power, entities with the power of eminent domain may acquire private property from a property owner even if the owner does not wish to sell." There are 2 provisions that must be met in order for your land to be taken and there is disagreement about this part of the text: "Virginia Code § 1-219.1 defines public use to include only the following: (i) the property is taken for the possession, ownership, occupation, and enjoyment of property by the public or a public corporation; (ii) the property is taken for construction, maintenance, or operation of public facilities by public corporations or by private entities provided that there is a written agreement with a public corporation providing for use of the facility by the public."

There are several proposed pipeline projects in Virginia. One begins in West Virginia and ends in Southwest Virginia. West Virginia has a different defined law on Eminent Domain. There is a growing list of court cases being presented over property rights.

Rainbow over Shenandoah Mountains
Sally also learned that a 42" wide pipeline would be buried underground in a swath of her land the width of the length of a football field. She would pay a one time fee but continue to pay taxes and insurance on land she could not disturb. There is no guarantee the pipe would not leak or that a Pigging Station (named because of the squealing noise it makes) or Compression Station would not be placed on her property. She also was surprised to discover that none of the gas flowing through Virginia for this project would be used in Virginia. We are just a thoroughfare to the coast where natural gas can be shipped & sold overseas for 4 times its U.S. value. Sally, scratching her head, wondered exactly what is the "public good" for citizens of Virginia having this project burden our lands and State.

The agency responsible for granting permits for oil and gas pipelines is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This agency certainly sounds official and as if it was managed by the Federal government but actually it is operated by many individuals that have a history in the oil and gas industry. "It is an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil." Dominion Resources is the biggest campaign contributor to state politicians in Virginia and all 40 senators currently serving have received campaign contributions. A recent bill will allow Dominion to not be state regulated for 8 years, which conveniently gives them the right to raise your rate during the interim and freeze their rates until 2023 even if utility rates plummet! Dominion is reported to have a surplus of 280 million dollars.

Yep I'm one of them.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) project that impacts Nelson County and other counties in the Central part of Virginia also impacts the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was recently reminded that our federally designated parks are owned by EVERY U.S. CITIZEN so WE ARE ALL impacted by this project.

For all of my life I've been told our National Parks are sacred lands set aside for future generations and are therefore to not be destroyed. Doesn't a clear-cut through preserved ecosystems approximating the width of route 29 count as destruction?

Prior to this personal experience, Sally had no real opinion about the pipeline project she heard mentioned in the news. Hey, it was not on HER LAND. Now she is active in the Nelson County movement and supports other counties impacted (Highland, Augusta, Buckingham, etc.) that oppose the rape of Virginia land and our National Forests. We don't want your Pipeline.


~ Sally is fictitious but based on real experiences.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Senator Mark Warner comes to Cville to talk about Gig Economy

All smiles when the Senator arrives at Moonlighting HQ.
Today Virginia Senator Mark Warner met with over 30 entrepreneurs to discuss the rapidly changing definition of business ownership known today as the Gig Economy or Shared Economy. Business sectors represented included Airbnb, Etsy, and Uber. Several Etsy shop owners were in attendance and I was included among them. Several local startups were present; Moonlighting, HourWise, Class Pass, and Mom Valet.

The meeting was held at Moonlighting located on the downtown Mall. Business owners were called together to brainstorm about the best way to approach our ever changing economy. More and more people are turning to self employment and there is a movement to decouple social programs such as unemployment, disability, insurance, and workers comp from the employer. Lashing programs to the employee or small business operator that often runs several businesses, making benefits portable.

A few business owners in attendance.
The discussion led to keeping politics out of the process and developing a third party to handle the care of benefits, siting that the individual is often much more interested in providing such benefits. Some employers have circumvented paying benefits by labeling workers as independent contractors, sub-contracting employees, or hiring only part-time workers, leaving employees without benefits.

Concerns were made about self-employment taxes and the lack of new entrepreneurs not even being aware of these additional expenses until tax time. Value added taxing such as Patent Box / Innovation Box has been used successfully in other countries and is being explored by Senator Warner. It was also suggested that a program model could be created in Virginia and expanded to other States.

Senator Warner engaged in the conversation.
Mark Warner was a very popular Governor of Virginia being liked by Republicans and Democrats. He is so personable and is interested in current trends and encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit.

I was able to plug our Etsy Shop Facebook page and hope that shop owners will join us to better our shops, advertise our wares, and spread the word that we're open for business globally and locally!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

North American Butterfly Count

The Crozet Team on the hunt
Yesterday thirty nature lovers broke into 3 teams to participate in the annual North American Butterfly Count for Albemarle County. Taking 4 hours in temps reaching 90 degrees each team covered a different area of the county to record each species of butterfly spotted. I was on the Crozet area team with 12 others.

This spider web was hanging over a creek.
Most of those participating are Virginia Master Naturalists (I sadly am not one) so going out into nature with such a broad knowledge base is quite fun. Plants, birds, and insects can readily be identified. You can't help but encounter other interesting things along the way.

Orange Sulphur Butterfly in purple Knapweed.
Several weeks ago the Ivy Creek Nature Center Education Room was packed with enthused nature lovers to be trained in butterfly identification. The program was prepared by Nancy Weiss and Terri Keffert of the Rivanna Master Naturalists. This was the first part of preparation to participate in today's count.

A Viceroy, sadly not a Monarch, but still exciting to see
The final numbers have yet to be tallied but hundreds of butterflies were spotted. It sounds like an easy task to identify a particular butterfly but many butterflies mimic each other to resemble bad tasting species. It takes a trained eye often looking through a good set of binoculars in order to accurately id. The topside and underside of one butterfly can be very different which also makes things complicated. Sometimes it comes down to just how the butterfly flies or what is referred to the flight pattern. There are around 20,000 butterfly species on our planet but luckily in Albemarle County Virginia there are "only" about 70.

Spicebush Swallowtail
You may wonder why the count is necessary, other than it's just plain interesting and fun to do... it can be a barometer of the health of the area. There is a lot of talk of the decline of bees but we need to remember that many other insects pollinate such as butterflies and moths. Butterflies are also a major part of the food chain being a main food for birds when in the caterpillar stage. Habitat loss, pesticide usage, and climate change can impact butterfly numbers killing off species. Twenty are on the current endangered list.

Deep in the wildflowers in Old Trail
The count was great fun and I was so fortunate to be able to participate. Several area residents came over to ask what in the world we were doing poking around in the brush as if we were trying to find something elusive. Fortunately this year there was plenty of action but sadly, we never saw a Monarch.

Mushrooms growing near a creek
You can help by not using toxic chemicals and by growing native plants which often provide food for caterpillars and attract adult butterflies. Each year I add more and more native plants (in part thanks to the Native Plant Society annual plant sale) and my yard has been a butterfly bonanza this year!

Lovely wildflowers and pond in Crozet
Often we do not understand the relationship between one species and another until we study it. We see a plant that has chewed leaves and think our plant is doomed when often it's just part of the normal course of things. The worm eats the leaves but turns into a beautiful butterfly that turns around and pollinates the plant it chewed.


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