Attorney says 2 tree-sitters are exempt from eminent domain

Published: Jan. 18, 2019 at 2:34 PM EST
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An attorney says Mountain Valley Pipeline can't invoke eminent domain to remove two tree-sitters protesting on land where they have no legal ownership interest.

the argument was presented Wednesday in a court filing by attorney John Fishwick on behalf of supporters of the Virginia tree-sitters, who have avoided court. He asked Judge Elizabeth Dillon to deny Mountain Valley's request for a preliminary injunction the company says it needs to evict the tree-sitters.

Two protesters have been living in tree stands about 50 feet above the forest floor on a mountainside in eastern Montgomery County where pipeline crews need to complete tree-cutting. They've been there since early September, following the lead of

, who were ordered to leave their stands.

But, unlike the past tree-sitters, the current two have no legal ownership of the land where they're perched. The landowner did not grant them permission, but has no plans to ask them to leave either, because he opposed the pipeline taking his property.

Fishwick says Mountain Valley erred by including the tree-sitters in cases in which eminent domain allowed the removal of protesters with property interests in the land.

Mountain Valley's 300-mile (483-kilometer) natural gas pipeline is being constructed in West Virginia and Virginia. The company has seven days to respond.