The Stokes County Board of Commissioner got a clear message Monday from residents from throughout the county and surrounding counties when over 150 people showed up to ask the board to start working on ordinances that would protect the health and welfare of county residents from possible future fracking operations in the county.
A total of 26 people spoke on the issue, telling commissioners that both fracking and coal ash had the potential to destroy Stokes County as they know it.
“I work for Appalachian Voices and have encouraged and supported the concerns about the Belews Creek Steam Station for over three years and during that time I have come to love the people of Stokes County,” said Amy Adams. “They are grounded in their faith and they care deeply about their family and community. The don’t deserve the pollution coming from the power station.”
Adams said air pollution from the power plant had moved to water pollution after the Clean Air Act imposed stricter regulations.
“The ash must sill be cleaned up,” she said. “It is upon this commission to demand the best possible clean up for the best possible county in the state.”
From that opening salvo residents of the Walnut Cove and Pine Hall area related horror stories of how they believe coal ash pollution has impacted their communities over the years.
Walnut Cove resident Tracey Edwards said coal ash had been linked to heart disease, cancer, strokes and respiratory disease and said she knew many people in the area dealing with those issues.
“I know people who are continuously getting tested for cancer,” she said. “Others are getting tumors biopsied to check to see if what they have is cancer. I have a friend who has had brain tumors. I don’t want our children to have these same issues. I want our residents to be able to live long enough to attend the Early College. We want to be able to live off our gardens and fish from the lakes and just be healthy.”
Babette Scales, who was wheeled to the speaker’s podium, said a lifetime of living on Pine Hall Road had taken a toll on her body.
“I remember how I used to have asthma attacks,” she said. “I have had kidney failure. I have one and half legs and it is all due to pollution in the environment.
“I have seen my neighbors die of cancer,” she added. “I have seen them just trying to breath. Many young people have to have oxygen. We lived in a nice quite community where you were free to run and play and enjoy your life as children but we were made to grow up very quickly due to illnesses, loved ones dying and wondering who would be next. That still goes on today.”
She said a friend of hers who is a pastor at a small church in the area has 20 members of his congregation who are battling cancer.
“I asked what do they have in common,” she said. “The water and the air. It really needs to be fixed. Everything costs something but it should not cost us our lives.”
Wesley Durrell showed the commissioners a gallon jug filled up with water from the Pine Hall area.
“You can’t drink it, you can’t cook with it,” he said. “Most of the people in Pine Hall are elderly people who have lived there most of their lives. They have been able to drink well water for years until here recently. They are on a fixed income and they cannot afford to buy bottled water each time they need a drink.”
Rev. Gregory Harriston, also from the Walnut Cove area, said he had lost two family members to cancer, and argued that potential fracking operations would only make the problem worse.
“Can you imagine the effect an earthquake would have on the dam over there?” he asked.
Madison resident Calyn Wall said she had similar concerns, citing how efforts to fix a similar dam in Kingston, Tenn., had resulted in one of the nation’s worst coal ash disasters.
“I live about three to five miles away and the idea that my home could be washed away is terrifying but that is a reality,” she said. “It is possible that hydraulic fracturing could disrupt that dam and there is no emergency plan in place. I think Duke should work with commissioners in several counties to set up an emergency plan.”
Citizens from other parts of the county not downstream from Belews Lake or in the cross-hairs for possible fracking operations also voiced concerns over the impact fracking could have on the county.
Kyle Dalton, of Danbury, said she was very worried about the depths at which possibly gas-rich shale had been found.
“It happens to be at the depth of many people’s drinking wells,” she said. “The likelihood that this fracking could affect the wells seems like a no brainier.”
Jim Mitchell, owner and operator of Mitchell’s Nursery and Greenhouse in King, said he was worried that impacts to the watertable from fracking could put him out of business.
“We have worked hard for 30 years and it is rolling, but when you are talking about an acre being watered one inch a day you are looking at 28,000 gallons of water,” he said. “I have heard that these people who do fracking will pay for the installation of water tanks, but can you imagine having tanks come to your community just so you can bathe? If you don’t have water to drink this county will be gone.”
Cheryl Ferguson, of Plum Granny Farms, said she had similar concerns about the impact fracking could have on her organic farm.
“A key component of that is water quality,” she said. “We are on an aquifer. The potential harm of ground water contamination concerns me greatly because the ability to mitigate it is very hard if not impossible. I am also concerned about ground water supply. Our ground water is already very limited and this has the potential to limit it even more.”
Other speakers talked about the impact fracking could have on the county’s growing tourism industry, a key aspect of the county’s economic development plans.
“Our parks and our river attract many tourists and dollars every year,” said Sterling Nicholson. “If they had to come through a fracking zone to get to Hanging Rock it would be very bad.”
“We are a destination for nearly half a million visitors annually and one of the top 10 most visited parks in the state,” agreed Martha Hartley. “Who want’s to take their family to a vacation in an oil field? What will farmers do when ground water is contaminated? Let’s not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Our environment is that goose.”
Dalton also warned that one of the companies that had expressed an interest in fracking in the area uses propane instead of water for fracking operations.
“It is like using napalm,” she said. “It is a little like living next to a rocket launch pad. Many, many truckloads of liquid propane gel is needed for each frack job. Do we want potential bombs on our curvy back roads?”
But despite all of the dire warnings and concerns about fracking the speakers came with a possible solution in hand.
“Ordinances can be crafted that do not violate the essence of the Energy Modernization Act,” said Robert Phillips of King, who had asked the commissioners to consider a similar ordinance in May. “If we do not do something to protect ourselves we are leaving the door open for economic and environmental ruin. Counties all around us are working toward having similar ordinances. Let us not be the only county in the region that is at the mercy of the industry.”
Mary Kerley, of No Fracking in Stokes, told commissioners that there were a number of non-profit organizations in the state that would help the county write ordinances that would protect its citizens from the adverse effects of fracking, and pay to defend those ordinances if they were ever challenged in court.
“It would be a shocking waste of resources to not use some of the best legal help in the state while working to help the citizens,” she said.
Therese Vick, a spokesman for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said her organization was working with counties throughout the state to develop similar ordinances and to also put into effect moratoriums on oil and gas exploration.
“You cannot depend on DENR and the Energy and Mining Commission to protect you,” she said. “They had plenty of opportunities to write regulations into the rules and they did not. They are not protective of public health for the people of Stokes County or for any other county in North Carolina.”
“One of the primary missions of government is to protect its citizens,” said Peggy Wert, of Danbury. “I am asking you to enact ordinances to protect the citizens from companies that want to frack here.”
Jerry Holdsclaw, of Westfield, agreed, noting that citizens asking for such an ordinance had packed the meeting.
“It is the opinion that you have rolled over and played dead in response to threats from the state regarding fracking, we feel you have turned a deaf ear to the citizens,” he said, noting that state law prevents local bans on fracking but does not prevent ordinances protecting the rights and welfare of citizens. “I urge you to listen tonight and if you are still afraid and are willing to do nothing but sit and watch the destruction of this county, then pack up your bedrolls and go home.”
“You have an opportunity to be heard and go on the record and to be on the right side of history,” said Nancy Banasik.
“Please say yes to the people and no to fracking,” agreed Susan Crone.
Board Chair Ronda Jones said the agenda for the next commissioners meeting had not been set yet, but said she would strongly consider having the topic on the discussion agenda.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.