Dax Cowart

Dax Cowart

By Clyde Evely

Evely is a retired psychologist and market farmer tending his family farm in Catawba.

Last night I remembered a documentary I saw 30 years ago about Dax Cowart. He and his father drove out to look at some land. What they did not know was that a gas pipeline was buried there and that it had developed a leak.

The gas, being heavier than air, had settled in the low valley and, it being odorless (odor is added for home use), they had no idea until they started their truck and the spark ignited the gas. They could not escape because it seemed all the air around them was burning.

A neighbor came and called the ambulance. Dax’s father died mercifully on the way to the hospital. Dax begged for a gun and begged to die and refused all treatment. Most of his body suffered third-degree burns; he lost some or all of his limbs.

Despite his denial of treatment, the hospital treated him with procedures that were excruciating. This film was not easy to watch or to remember. Much later in life, when Dax was an attorney specializing in patient rights and happily married, he was asked if he was glad for the treatment forced on him. He said quite clearly that no, the end does not justify the means and that he would still refuse treatment and prefer to die.

This memory is especially relevant now. We in the Catawba Valley are faced with having a pipeline forced on us; our right to refuse this use of land is in jeopardy. Government agencies and the courts will decide if the public good supersedes the good as determined locally. Much of our farm has already gone to the Appalachian Trail (good neighbors) and power lines (OK neighbors), so we feel we have done our share and we should now have a choice.

The company wants to build an underground 42-inch pressurized pipeline through the last rural area of Roanoke County where the Appalachian Trail runs the length. This company has never built such a pipeline, but don’t we all learn by doing.

Even so, this infrastructure will deteriorate over time and eventually leak. Despite this business’s protestations otherwise, we all know how well our infrastructure is maintained or not. Perhaps leaked gas will collect in the bottom land by Catawba Creek and when one of us starts his truck or tractor, we will become Dax, or perhaps not.

We still should have the right to refuse this bit of thievery under the name of eminent domain. Our good here will not be served if this line goes through. I hear that a pipeline is “safer” than rail, but I do not know how this statistic was arrived at and I do remember Mark Twain’s remark of some truth that there are “lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

Common sense says we need to make rail transport safer rather than wreak havoc on farmers; we have enough to deal with as it is. Rail safety needs improvement in any event, just ask people in Lynchburg or West Virginia or Quebec, and pipelines fail quite often as well.

Look at the lists on Wikipedia of train wrecks and the many pipeline leaks and explosions over the past decade.

We should have the right to refuse this pipeline and be safe on our land. The ends do not justify the means here.

Remember Dax.