This blog is the sixth in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with Nancy Baker of Hinesburg, a special educator devoted to her community and to justice. This is Nancy’s story.
My philosophy of government is that people who can should look out for people who can’t. The broadest shoulders should take on the most work. As an early childhood special educator, I have 30 years of experience fighting for those who can’t.
Hinesburg is a wonderful community that I moved to because it was a community. The town has a lot of organic farms and a commitment to keep things clean. Now big corporations want to dictate how our town should act and look, and they’re threatening that community.
Geprags Park is the only public park in Hinesburg, so it’s an important element of our community. I was on the town conservation commission and involved in rebuilding the barn on the property. I still spend time there several times a week, walking my dogs, listening to the birds and just appreciating the land.
I found out about the plan to run a pipeline through the park two days before the Hinesburg Select Board met to vote on the proposal. I immediately went ballistic. The people who would become Protect Geprags Park got together, hired a lawyer, scrambled to put together documents and delay the vote. We succeeded in delaying the meeting, but the Select Board eventually decided in favor of the pipeline. Protect Geprags has a small group of brilliant people, but the Public Service Board and Vermont Gas have political clout. They didn’t even try to go around the park because the Select Board made it cheap for them.We were going to get $75,000 from Vermont Gas for the pipeline. Andrea Morgante, our ally on the Select Board, got them to up it to $225,000, but it’s still not worth it. If the Geprags sisters are in their graves, they’re rolling in ‘em.
I don’t understand why the stay on construction in the park was lifted. How is Vermont Gas allowed to drill when there are two major lawsuits and a federal investigation ongoing? They’ve already clear cut a hill in the park which destroyed a lot of property. They claim it’ll be put back to its original state, but you can’t put a wetland back. The grass over a buried pipeline has to be kept short and any future maintenance they need to do will require digging trenches. If you don’t have a way to clean something up, you shouldn’t be allowed to do it. If this pipeline leaks into the wetlands, where do they think it’s going to end up? Lake Champlain. Politicians value Lake Champlain so much but can’t make that connection.
Climate change is turning the world on its ear. Yeah, I have a longer growing season, but that’s not what I want. I want snow in the winter, maple sugar in the spring. Everything we know could be gone. We’re losing so much just to get more money. I live on a small lake and we have horrible algae blooms. It’s not safe to canoe or kayak most of the summer anymore. It’s been years since we’ve had enough snow in the winter for the luge run we used to build down to the lake.
Filing for intervenor status on behalf of a public space was complicated. Luckily, we had a fabulous lawyer, Jim Dumont. The potential harm seemed so obvious to us. The pipeline could blow up, frost heaves could rupture it, fracking causes cancer, stray voltage could harm dogs, deer or birds. But no one would listen. Talking to the Select Board felt like banging our heads into a wall. We’ve been talking to the state legislature as well, trying to get them to revoke Vermont Gas’s certificate of public good. We’re sort of like David fighting Goliath. We take a lot of pride in that. We’re trying to protect our kids and our community.
I don’t like being called a protester. It implies I’m only against things. Like the water protectors at Standing Rock, I’m protecting, for something, too. I’m an activist. An activist is someone who’s really deliberately trying to help the park and actively change the system. Even local activism can have a big impact. We’re forming a protective wall around Hinesburg, then we’ll move it outward. Sometimes you don’t even know how far the ripple goes when you throw that pebble. I’ve heard from people who aren’t outwardly political that they’re closing their accounts with TD bank because of TD’s investment in the Dakota Access pipeline. You don’t know what the effects of your actions will be.
Getting people to listen is the next big hurdle, getting the state to act as a community. We need a lot more education, to understand that it’s hard to undo what we’ve done and paved over. If this pipeline goes through, Vermont is stuck with 30 years of natural gas. If we allow corporations to pave over and pollute everything, it will be much more expensive to put it back. We have to be thoughtful the first time around.
Julie Elfin is a senior at the University of Vermont studying the environment and communications. This profile series is her culminating project for her Online Organizing internship with 350VT.