‘They Don’t Give a Damn and That is Not Right’

‘They Don’t Give a Damn and That is Not Right’
Judy and Warren Ellison both in their 90s are worried about the pipeline's affect on their spring water. Their farm has been in the family for generations, since 1774. “My main concern is water. If I can't drink the water, the cows can't drink the water -- we're out of it. And subsequent generations are out of it. If in the process of preparing that ground to put the pipes in they could have an accident and have damage to the foundation of rocks that are under here and you can't repair that. “ – Judy Ellison Warren and Judy Ellison and some their children still live and work on the land that’s been in the Ellison family since 1774. Their farm sits in Hans Creek Valley in the shadow of Ellison’s Ridge above. The Mountain Valley Pipeline proposal calls for a 42-inch diameter natural gas transmission pipeline to run along Ellison’s Ridge and through the valley below. Like many people in the area, the Ellisons are concerned that the blasting to create a 10-foot deep ditch through rock will disturb neighboring rocks and ruin water sources. Known for its karst terrain, caves and sinkholes are prevalent in Monroe County, West Virginia. “I'm going to die right here in this house probably. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I love this land. I'm sorta glad I'm 92-years-old to tell you the truth, because I don't like the way things are going. I mean I just don't. I don't think it's good for Hans Creek Valley or any other place in the universe. You've got to take care of the whole thing. “ – Warren Ellison

If I can’t drink the water, the cows can’t drink the water. We’re out of it. And subsequent generations are out of it. — Judy Ellison

The Mountain Valley Pipeline has proposed to place its 42-inch diameter gas pipeline along the ridge of multiple mountains, including this one. The ridge placement runs along the top of the mountain ridge and requires removing the ridge to make way for a 125-foot-wide, flat work area in order to create a 9-foot deep pipeline trench that follows the former ridge line. MVP proposals include removing the top of portions of Ellison’s Ridge, which is pictured here behind these horses in the Hans Creek Valley of Monroe County, West Virginia.

Warren Ellison: I’m one of seven and the youngest of seven. I’m a World War II veteran and served on Okinawa. I’ve farmed here all my life. We’ve been here since 1774, over two hundred years — I mean that’s so darned far back.

There was a fort in Greenville. My ancestors came to that fort to spend the night. They rode a horse across the hill over here. This was all filled with timber at one time and so they cleaned it up and stayed over for a while. They had Indians to contend with. I mean they were out here in the open too. They really had some experience with those guys. And there was some kidnapping going on. I can’t remember quite all that story, but they ran a lady down they’d kidnapped and run down to past Charleston. They did get her back. I don’t know what her name was, but she’s out of this family. There wasn’t any West Virginia here then. This was Virginia

Judy Ellison: They called it a land grant farm. He’s the sixth generation father-to-son to be here on the farm and we have a son and he will be the next one to take care of this place.

Warren Ellison: There ain’t another, no place like it. A teacher, back when I was in second grade, she asked the class, ‘What are you going to do in 20 years?’ I didn’t bat an eye, ‘I’m gonna be farming.’ Now what other students told her, I doubt if they could answer her. But I could answer her and I told her straight out.

Judy Ellison: We’ve done things together here on the farm. We had chickens. We had about 2000 hens and we gathered eggs together and we had a machine that graded eggs. We have 10 springs on this farm. They are gonna put in this humongous, wide ditch to put this 40 — let’s see, how big is that pipe? 42 inches.

If in the process of preparing that ground to put the pipes in they could do damage to the foundation of rocks that are under here and you can’t repair that. You can ruin the water that we drink, the water that the cattle drink. If I can’t drink the water, the cows can’t drink the water. We’re out of it. And subsequent generations are out of it.

Warren Ellison: Well, they’ll always have an explosion with these lines. You got one this big and you’ve got to get them cut off from you in an explosion. They might have to go way back up the way to get that gas cut off in that line. I don’t know. I don’t think they know either. But that’s a danger if you get an explosion in there. Of course it screws up this water. And we do have good water.

I don’t want it here. Because water’s water. These folks don’t know what it is like to be without water. They’ve always had everything they wanted. If they found out that they don’t have water that’s fit to drink, they’d have to fill it up with the chemicals and make it worse. So it’s a big problem. I just don’t know, but they’ll end up with the thing.

Judy Ellison: I hope not.

Warren Ellison: I hope not too. But the bureaucrats and the greedy are going to get it. They don’t care what happens to America or the United States or the world or the universe. They don’t give a damn and that is not right. It’s not coming on this farm. I don’t know how they missed us, but I’m close enough. They’re not on me, but that don’t make a bit of difference because if something’s wrong out there it’s gonna take this property too.

I’m going to die right here in this house probably. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love this land. I’m sorta glad I’m 92-years-old to tell you the truth, because I don’t like the way things are going. I mean I just don’t. I don’t think it’s good for Hans Creek Valley or any other place in the universe. You’ve got to take care of the whole thing.

The home of Judy and Warren Ellison in Hans Creek Valley. The Ellison family has lived in the valley since getting a land grant in 1774.

Judy and Warren Ellison live on the land that’s been in the Ellison family since 1774. The two were married on September 11, 1943. Warren Ellison, is a World War II veteran and considers himself a walking miracle because of his near misses in Okinawa. Both have been active in their community, Warren Ellison, 92, was president of the local bank and a founding member of the local Ruritans. Judy, 91, was the first female on the board of education and active in the PTA.

The Ellison farm sits in Hans Creek Valley in the shadow of Ellison’s Ridge above. The Mountain Valley Pipeline proposed route is nearby, but does not cross the Ellison’s property, but the couple has concerns about underground water and springs that are interconnected regardless of property lines. The MVP proposal calls for a 42-inch diameter natural gas transmission pipeline to run along Ellison’s Ridge above the Ellison’s farmland and through Hans Creek Valley. To run along the top of mountain ridges, MVP proposes to remove the ridge down to a level that creates a 125-foot-wide work area. Like some in the area, the Ellisons are concerned that the blasting to create a 9-foot deep trench through rock will disturb neighboring rocks and ruin water sources. Known for its karst terrain, caves and sinkholes are prevalent in Monroe County, West Virginia.

The proposed  42-inch diameter Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is one of multiple large-diameter natural gas pipeline proposals under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for construction approval. The MVP’s proposed path stretches 303-miles from Bradshaw, West Virginia to Pittsylvania County, Virginia connecting Marcellus Shale gas production to the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline System (Transco). Transco is a 10,200-mile pipeline network that stretches from the northeastern U.S. to the Gulf Coast serving major metro areas and international markets. FERC is expected to release its Final Environmental Impact Study in June 2017 and a decision to approve or deny is expected in the fall.

This interview is part of a series about natural gas pipelines and the people and places along the routes in Appalachia.


In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you have an idea for ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ please contact Nancy Andrews on Twitter @NancyAndrews or email at nancy.andrews [at] mail.wvu.edu. Follow her on Instagram @NancyAndrews.

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