CUMBERLAND – They wanted to show they still have a voice.
The handful of people who stood out on Route 60 near the Cumberland/Powhatan line on Tuesday, Oct. 1, were hoping their demonstration would be seen by Gov. Ralph Northam. They had heard he was staying overnight at Bear Creek Lake State Park and planned to put on a peaceful demonstration he would see if he was traveling east on Route 60, as they expected.
Their goal was simple – remind the governor of the negative impacts on Virginia if County Waste of Virginia’s proposal to build Green Ridge Recycling and Disposal Facility becomes a reality, said Betty Myers, co-chair of the Cumberland County Landfill Alert (CCLA) group. The landfill, which successfully applied for rezoning and a conditional use permit in June 2018, is proposed to be built in Cumberland County extremely close to the Powhatan County border. CCLA is intent on stopping that.
“We are trying to let the governor know the proposed mega landfill coming to Cumberland County is not what we want. Traffic, ground and surface water, environmental justice, and earthquakes are our main concerns,” Myers said.
One set of the protestors’ staggered signs read “GOV SAVE OUR WELLS,” while another said “THE DEATH OF THE JAMES RIVER STARTS HERE.” The bright orange spray paint was still wet on one large cardboard sign that Ron Tavernier had just finished, which read, “GREEN RIDGE WRONG PLACE.”
Part of the point of protesting where the governor might see them was pointing out how CCLA’s mission coincides with Executive Order 29, which dealt with the establishment of the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice, said Keith Oulie of Cumberland. The council was formed based on the premise that, “All deserve to live in a healthy environment. The Commonwealth has a duty to protect our air, water, and land, and to ensure that no community in Virginia is disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of climate change.”
Oulie especially pointed to one line in the executive order that said, “No population, especially minority, low-income, or historically-underserved communities, should face higher levels or greater impacts of pollution than other populations.” Yet that is exactly what is happening with the building of this landfill, he argued.
He also said that Virginia’s regulations regarding landfills are more lax than other states, which has made it a “target” for trash companies.
The group is also concerned that the state works hard to protect public water but does not have enough regulation in place to protect well water, which so many people in rural counties like Cumberland and Powhatan are dependent on, Myers said.
The entire time the group was camped out on the side of the road across from where the landfill is supposed to be built, Iris Grimseley, 68, of Cumberland stood by the highway holding a sign that read “NO MEGA LANDFILL.”
She and her husband, Marshall, have lived in Cumberland for 14 years and will live about 2 miles from the landfill if it is built. They are concerned about the hardships the landfill will bring to residents of both counties through traffic problems, potential water contamination, air quality, smell, pests, etc., and wanted to remind the governor of their concerns, she said.
“This is not just a countywide issue; this is a state issue. Some of the state officials might not look at it as being a state issue, but it will be a state issue, because the road runs from county to county, and the trucks will be coming in from county to county. There is more than just Cumberland County involved in this,” she said.
To be honest, they don’t know if the governor ever saw their demonstration. They were expecting a caravan of cars to go past, and that never materialized. They wondered if his team got tipped off and went another way. Either way, they ended their demonstration with smiles.
“We didn’t know for sure. It’s a gamble. But we couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Myers said.
Regardless of whether the governor saw their protest, the message was still put out there with the untold number of vehicles that passed them by that morning. Grimsley said she was pleased at the response in the cars that went by in the few hours they were by the road.
“I have gotten a lot of support from people going by with thumbs up, waving, blowing the horn. I had one person that gave me a thumbs down. I think that is the only one so far that has been negative. I think our odds of people who agree with it are a lot better,” she said with a smile.
Because the demonstration was planned last minute and on a workday, the protestors weren’t surprised that they had less than 10 people come out to protest in two different spots along the highway, Grimsley said. She said they have done research on other fights against landfills across the country and found small groups who successfully campaigned against them.
“It doesn’t take a lot of people; it just takes that one thing that can stop it to stop it,” she said.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.