After Riding the ACP Route by Horseback, Sarah Murphy Coming Home for Christmas

by Duane Nichols on December 25, 2018

Sarah Murphy mount Rob Roy to protest ACP another day

Home for Christmas: Atlantic Coast Pipeline protest by horseback

From an Article by Julia Fair, Staunton News Leader, Staunton, VA, December 24, 2018

Sarah Murphy hopes to be home by Christmas.

Since September, the 34-year-old woman from Afton has been on a journey with her horse. She loaded Rob Roy with horse feed, camping supplies and food to sustain them a few days travel. They would have to stop along they way to refuel. Geared with a navigation system, Murphy set out to travel the entire multi-state route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Afton is an unincorporated community in Albemarle and Nelson counties in Virginia. It is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 20 miles west of Charlottesville. “When you grow up in the land you love, it breaks your heart to see things that are happening — that I don’t think are going to benefit the earth,” Murphy said.

The journey isn’t a blind one. Along the route, Murphy’s eye has remained keen for infractions to report to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Murphy mounted Rob Roy in Staunton that September day. They rode directly into a thunderstorm that ran off Rob Roy’s coat as he carried them into their journey to the pipeline trail in West Virginia.

The duo had to be careful. One wrong move, or venture onto the wrong path, could have cost them a trespassing charge or a battle with tough terrain. Murphy assures people she meets along the way that she takes access roads to be safe.

But one day they slipped. Rob Roy lost his footing and found himself belly deep in a pit of mud in Harrison County, West Virginia. About 90 minutes passed before Rob Roy escaped the pit. Murphy found a family nearby and exchanged some house work for a warm place to stay and rest for a few days.

There, she learned how pipeline construction may have impacted the family cattle. Along the route, Murphy heard stories with similar themes; many families were impacted in different ways by the construction.

She heard how a fence was cut without notice to the family, and cattle escaped. She heard how a cherry tree was cut, causing the leaves to turn toxic which made cattle sick from digesting the newly wilted leaves.

She heard from families who relied on pipeline work to pay the bills. “The guy I was staying with was like ‘Oh you’re sleeping in the house of the enemy,’ but I don’t see it like that,” Murphy said.

The man told Murphy he had worked on pipelines since he was 15 years old. Through conversation, some of Murphy’s fears were put to rest as she learned about inspections and standards of quality that are set in place for such projects. She asked him if some contractors along the route have more violations than others, which he said could be the case.

Murphy recalled spots along her journey where she thought the standard of quality was not the same. “They’re shut down now for a violation so hopefully they’ll look at where their weak spots are,” Murphy said.

In December, Dominion suspended all Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction along the entire 600-mile route of the $7 billion project. Dominion immediately filed a motion for emergency clarification on the scope of the court’s decision.

The project, which is set to cross 57 miles in Augusta County, had to stop construction due to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit placing a stay on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s revised permit for the project.

Later that month, the same court vacated an environmental permit that would have allowed it to cross two national forests. In its opinion, the court quotes Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, saying “We trust the United States Forest Service to “speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.

“I’m trying to go into this with an open mind with a journalistic mindset,” Murphy said. “I don’t know everything there is to know about it.”

When Rob Roy was well rested after his mud encounter, the duo made their way back to Virginia. Christmas was near. Although the roads were safe, weather conditions threatened Murphy and Rob Roy along the trail. As Rob Roy trotted through eight inches of snow, Murphy’s phone slipped into the flurry below.

Murphy stopped. She searched until she realized dusk was near, leading her to camp in a specialty thermal tent. She knew she couldn’t wait around, she had to stick to her schedule. She left the area the next morning.

Weeks later, Murphy would get a message from the local sheriff that two bear hunters had found and returned her phone to the office.

When she was about 60 miles away from home, Murphy called a family she met early in her trip who had offered to help her if she needed it. Katha Seacord was happy to help and donated camping supplies and served Murphy a hot roasted chicken and vegetable dinner.

Murphy relied on hospitality throughout the trip. When she doesn’t camp, she often finds families who open their home to her in exchange for house work. “She goes day by day, following the pipeline trail, knowing along the route that she will knock on a door, or someone will stop her for help,” Seacord said. “That will always be there for her.”

They often open their home to strangers in need, Seacord said. Murphy met the Seacord’s in September — the beginning of her journey — outside of their church, where she tied Rob Roy to a post to rest.

On December 23, Murphy made it to Churchville, about 20 miles from home. She had enough cell phone service to update her Instagram followers of her whereabouts and posted “So close!” underneath a picture of Rob Roy enjoying some grass.

In the spring, Murphy and Rob Roy plan to start the second leg of the protest and venture to the North Carolina pipeline route. “She’s working her way back home, she wants to be home by Christmas,” Seacord said by phone five days before the holiday.


Wintergreen property owners settle with ACP, December 19, 2018

“Following extensive negotiations, Wintergreen Property Owners (WPOA) and Dominion Energy have reached a financial settlement related to the condemnation of WPOA property for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Terms of the settlement are confidential.

The WPOA, while understanding the principle of eminent domain, remains opposed to the chosen location of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through its property. Like other landowners having property taken through eminent domain, WPOA had no good legal remedy to fight the condemnation of our land. While the settlement eliminates a costly protracted legal battle over condemnation, it leaves open other legal options to protect our community and allows our community an opportunity to move forward.”

The Wintergreen Settlement is located in the path of the ACP, at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and southern end of Skyline Drive. Wintergreen, VA, with a population of approximately 500 includes private homes plus over 250 villa-style condimeniums and rentals.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: