Franklin County family hosting tree-sitters receives fines

Protests continue, defense lawyer responds

ROANOKE, Va. – A family now faces fines after allowing tree-sitters to take up spots on a projected site of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the middle of their Franklin County farm.

Federal Judge Elizabeth Dillon ruled Tuesday against Carolyn and Ian Reilly, finding them in contempt and issuing $2,000 in fines for the family. However, she did not find a handful of others in contempt: Carolyn Reilly’s parents, Dave and Betty Werner, or the tree-sitters themselves in part because their identities still aren’t known to the court.

The Reillys have said they’ve never gone up to the tree-sit locations but there is still one tree-sitter around 75 feet in the air in a covered platform in the natural gas pipeline’s planned path. MVP workers have begun cutting trees in the area but can’t clear land close to the location unless the sitter leaves.

Dillon said the Reilly’s are in contempt because they’ve allowed the masked tree-sitters to access the MVP site from their land and the family might have avoided knowing their identities on purpose.

“The court concludes that the Reillys have offered both material assistance and encouragement to people who are interfering with MVP’s ability to conduct its construction activities in the Easements located on the Tract,” Dillon said in a written decision.

Terry Frank, the family’s lawyer, told 10 News Wednesday that it’s a “partial victory.”

“MVP didn’t get what it wanted,” she said in a statement. “The Werners were dismissed as were the unknown tree-sitters. We disagree with the Judge’s findings of contempt against the Reillys and the imposition of any fines, and believe it has serious First Amendment implications. We are reviewing all options at this time.”

On May 4, the day of the hearing in federal court and before tree-cutting work began to close in on her location, Carolyn Reilly offered her opinion against the pipeline company.

“We have deep ties to the land and we can say that we are glad that people are taking a stand for the land,” she said. "We've not impeded any bit of their progress whatsoever and we will continue to speak up.”

In the hearing in Roanoke federal court, the defense argued that because the landowners don't know who the tree-sitters are, they can't be obstructing and they don’t have an obligation to remove the sitters from their property.

One other tree-sitter is still protesting the route in Virginia. A woman calling herself “Nutty” has stayed at a Giles County location in the Jefferson National Forest for 50 days, while the Forest Service has denied access to supplies for more than a month.

Two Roanoke County tree-sitters came down earlier this month in the middle of the family’s Bent Mountain property after a judge ordered fines and the potential for U.S. Marshals to remove them by force if necessary.

Construction continues on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is projected to run from West Virginia into North Carolina, crossing through Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties in Virginia.

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