An Open Letter to the Floyd County Board of Supervisors

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dear Mr. Yoder, Mr. Allen, Mr. Clinger, Mr. Turman, and Mr. Gerald:

When my family moved to the Floyd/Carroll county line in 1979, it was in part because my parents chose to abandon a middle-class lifestyle in North Carolina that they could have pursued in a way that achieved some people’s perceptions of “The American Dream.” My father had a good job at the Research Triangle Institute in Raleigh, NC. He left that position and everything it gave us in terms of financial and social stability and took his family to a small farmhouse with no electricity or running water—until we installed a hand pump—on the banks of Deepwater Creek out in Indian Valley. At nine years old, I learned how to operate a wood cook stove, how to wash clothes in a wringer-washer, how to carry water for a family of five (and how to conserve water for the rest of my life as a result), and how to live with the confusion and judgment of our extended family because many of them could not understand the circumstances that led my parents to make such a seemingly extreme—some would even say irresponsible—decision.

After working in the sawmills and the hayfields, and a few other jobs that required hard labor and honest effort, my father was hired as the coordinator for Citizens for the Preservation of Floyd County. The struggle to keep the 765 KV power lines out of Floyd had been ongoing for a few years already and when dad got involved, most of the community was already aware that APCO planned to build these giant lines that would carry coal-powered electricity from WV to NOVA. What my father did, so far as I can recall, was to bring the community together and help to organize the resistance that was ultimately unsuccessful in keeping the lines out but remarkably successful in bringing the community together. To this day those giant power lines are, to my knowledge, the only existing energy infrastructure in Floyd County that are not related directly to Floyd County’s energy needs.

Most of you probably knew my father, Wayne Bradburn, or you may know of him. Over the years he participated in the community in various ways, including a job as the small business incubator manager at the Jacksonville Center, working for the 2000 census, and a brief stint with the Ruritan Club.

When I began to lead the effort to keep the Mountain Valley Pipeline out of Floyd, my father was a huge inspiration to me. Though he did what he had to do over the years to keep his family afloat, his professional decisions were never based on profit. He did not ever choose to own land, claiming that his moral and ethical position was that land is not something that can be owned by anyone, that we all have a responsibility to be stewards for the earth upon which we reside. Wayne died five years ago. It is, perhaps, unreasonable to claim that your father was also your best friend, but I truly felt that way about my dad. As a widow and a single parent, he was not only a friend and father to me; he also played a very large role in the upbringing of my daughter. It took me a very long time—and a great deal of community support—to “recover” from that loss.

I’m giving you this background so that you can, perhaps, understand a little bit about why the work I have done over the last few months has been motivated by a true love for community and for the remaining authenticity of the people and the work of Floyd, in the sense that we still carry on some of that heritage. There are those who are still working horses, cooking with wood or choosing to build homes that do not conform to the “standards” that most Americans choose to live by. Most people in Floyd have a deep respect for the earth, whether they consider themselves environmentalists (a word that has some unfortunate associations) or simply people who value and intend to protect the land that they live on.

Floyd also has some unusual alliances and relationships, and though there are certainly different “segments” of the community, I believe that when push comes to shove, there’s a valuable and unusual willingness to come together in support of a common goal in a way that transcends personal ideologies, lifestyles or choices.

This is what I have witnessed over the last few months as the director of Citizens Preserving Floyd County. Everyone has been willing to pitch in. We’ve worked together in a manner that does not always seem possible in other communities; though I hope that perhaps it is something we are learning, as a society, to pursue. Though this country was founded on independence, our system of government, at its best, encourages inter-dependence.

Though I have voted in every election possible since I was eighteen and participated in social movements of various sorts from the time I was twelve, I have never felt so much like I was truly interacting and participating in local government until now. You have all been incredible. I have felt from the beginning like everyone here was really listening, genuinely concerned, and actually committed to representing and supporting the interests of Floyd. There has been an open line of communication, a legitimate sharing of resources, and you have all challenged any cynicism I held about special interests, greed, deception or corruption. I am an admitted idealist—and though I think of myself as a practical idealist, I still recognize that my idealism has contributed to my perception of the entire situation in an as-yet-undetermined manner. For example, when I go to the Roanoke Board of Supervisors meeting this afternoon, I will approach them as allies, not as enemies. Until I know differently, I will assume that the information and perspective I have to share will be one that is valued, heard and potentially acted upon. This may or may not be true, but it is you who have given me the foundation to stand on that allows me to believe that is possible, and for that, I offer you the deepest of appreciation. You’ve gone above and beyond. Thank you.

As we move beyond the initial threat of the Mountain Valley Pipeline ripping through Floyd County, many of us involved in the resistance are committed to being emissaries for the surrounding region. We have so much to share that we’ve gathered over the last few months and we’re willing to assist them in their own struggle. Preserve Floyd: Citizens Preserving Floyd County (PF: CPFC) has become a chapter of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) and we are working with this organization to learn how to effectively identify and address threats to our environment. What is perhaps unique about PF: CPFC is that we do not limit our definition of the environment to the ecosystem or the natural resources we have in abundance here in Floyd. We’re also considering our cultural heritage and our way of life, and looking at ways we can support and encourage that growth and preservation as environmental advocates.

At this point, we have a lot of refiguring and reframing to do, and we welcome your participation in the dialogue so that we can continue to serve the community to the best of our ability.

When it was announced that the pipeline would no longer be routed through Floyd, it was a bittersweet “victory” for me. What I know now about the fracking industry, the sustainability of these proposed high-pressure transport lines and the issues of injustice that surround these sorts of projects are things I cannot ever not know again. Though the proposed route does not pass over our county line, it now could potentially affect our neighbors in Bent Mountain and Montgomery County. My personal decision is to continue my efforts to ensure that EQT, an irresponsible, disrespectful and incredibly corrupt corporation, does not build this pipeline at all. But I did have a moment when I realized that we did, indeed, win. The power lines made it through despite my father’s best efforts, but the pipeline did not. And I know that he is smiling about that and patting me—and Floyd County—on the back.

Because I have been the public face and the voice for this movement, I am getting a lot of credit for what’s happened. It was not me, though. It was Floyd. Hundreds of citizens who have contributed in whatever ways they could—yourselves included—and honestly, one of my biggest challenges over the past few months was to find something for everyone to do. So many, many people have offered their minds, hearts and shoulders. So many voices have been included in my public statements. It has been—and will continue to be—an honor to serve my community in this way. I hope that you will help us to determine the best manner in which Preserve Floyd: Citizens Preserving Floyd County can continue to benefit the community as we move forward.




Mara Eve Robbins