Police respond as pipeline protests continue

Pipeline opponents in Roanoke County approached MVP workers Monday

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Some opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline continued efforts Monday to protest construction in Roanoke County.

Around a dozen people traveled through private property to a site on Bent Mountain, near Poor Mountain Road, where they said crews holding chainsaws were getting ready to start working. They said their goal was to ask for proof of permits and identification and obstruct crews in whatever way they could.

Police said they responded to a call from MVP officials around 8:45 a.m. and when they arrived they told the pipeline opponents that they were trespassing and had to leave. Police did not charge anyone.

The group’s members said they had permission to be on a nearby landowner’s property, but not the property on which crews were working Monday morning.

“To see the trees coming down can be very disheartening,” pipeline opponent Bert Bondurant said. “The forest coming down does constitute irreparable harm.”

The pipeline opponents said they don't believe MVP can legally cut down trees right now in this area.

"They are in direct violation of the law right now,” Mara Robbins said.

They have three main objections. They said the snowy conditions Monday broke federal working regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They believe MVP didn't follow all the federal regulations under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission notices. And they believe the company can't cut down trees after the March 31 deadline set in a January court decision, due to endangered bats.

An MVP spokeswoman said the company is following all the environmental and legal procedures, adding that it cut down all trees falling under the restrictions for endangered bats before the March 31 deadline.

“The disruption created by opponents has not changed the overall outcome of the project, which remains on target for a late 2018 in-service,” MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox said.

The confrontation was the latest in a series of disputes over construction in southwest Virginia lasting over a year. A woman is still staying in a nearby tree house 30 feet above the ground in the pipeline’s path, after climbing up last week in protest.

The people observing workers Monday on Bent Mountain said they began monitoring crews about a week ago and plan on continuing to do so for the foreseeable future.

“We're keeping watch. We feel we're responsibly keeping watch,” Bondurant said.

Opponents said they’ve tried their best to fight the pipeline through law and politics and hoped they wouldn’t have to resort to a more physical protest.

"It hasn't mattered. Nobody's listening. So they'll listen now,” Robbins said.

Construction crews are expected to continue work in Roanoke County this week.