West Virginia judge denies injunction against pipeline protesters in trees
UPDATE (Mar. 20):
A judge in West Virginia has denied Mountain Valley Pipeline’s request for an injunction against the group sitting in trees to delay the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on Peters Mountain.
The major issue at Tuesday's hearing was whether the Mountain Valley Pipeline is authorized to cut trees in the area where the group is located.
Judge Robert Irons said the information provided by the Mountain Valley Pipeline was not conclusive and he denied the request for a preliminary injunction.
With a sharp eye, or better yet a long lens, you can see the tree sitters from the road below Peters Mountain, but to get up close and within earshot is a bit more complicated.
Monroe County resident Maury Johnson drove us as far as a private logging road would take us,
Roanoke Times Reporter Jeff Sturgeon, Photographer Erica Yoon and I then made a steep climb to the ridge line above, followed by a 10-minute hike on the Appalachian Trail to the point where the pipeline would cross.
The tree sitters are about 25-30 feet off the ground, on platforms secured with ropes and covered with plastic. And they've been buffeted by the high winds here on the top of Peters Mountain.
We didn't see anyone else on the ground, but one of the tree sitters did poke her head out from under the plastic. She said she wanted to remain anonymous, but told us she felt safe and had ample food and water.
"Our intention is to defend this piece of land," she said. "If we're in this tree they can't cut it or they can't cut nearby trees without endangering our lives."
She said she had been there since late last month and views the tree sit as a fight against the ways large corporations exploit the land.
"And this land is meant to be free," she said, "not meant to be owned, damaged and violated by these companies looking only to benefit financially."
The tree-sitters are located in an area where construction crews plan to drill beneath the Appalachian Trail.
The company must complete tree-felling in the area by the end of the month because of rules protecting endangered bats, so the clock is running.
We don't when the company, the forest service or some other agency might try to evict the tree-sitters from the pipeline right-of-way, but it could come at any time.