ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Pipeline opponents are celebrating a week after construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline was put on hold. They gathered on Bent Mountain for a potluck dinner and to protest.
A spokeswoman for the Mountain Valley Pipeline continues to say the natural gas pipeline running from West Virginia to the North Carolina border will be online early next year. But as of right now construction is paused and pipeline opponents are taking the victories where they can get them.
About two dozen people gathered Thursday night, protesting the Mountain Valley Pipeline at its Blue Ridge Parkway crossing. And for the first time in the four-year fight, this protest feels a little different.
"I've been waiting for this moment and it's very gratifying to see it happen," Preserve Floyd co-chair Mara Robbins said. "I call it emotional whiplash, you get a victory and a defeat, a victory and a defeat, and at this point we're getting victory after victory."
Just down the road from the protest is the Mountain Valley Pipeline worksite, where the 42-inch pipe is nearly buried. But the equipment sits idle all around it and workers are nowhere to be seen. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stopped work on the entire 303-mile route after an appeals court revoked permits in the Jefferson National Forest. The pipeline crosses through the national forest land on its way to Roanoke County and beyond.
"We know it's temporary, we're hoping we can have some effect in making it a lasting stop work order," protest organizer Veronica Santo said. "We're hoping that they will be packing up and heading off."
People also gathered for a potluck dinner at the Bent Mountain Center, that when originally scheduled, was a protest dinner. But since the stop work order was issued, the dinner transformed into something different.
"People want to celebrate, they want to get together, we've built community," Robbins said. "Over the past four years we have had a strong community of people who have worked together from every angle."
Mountain Valley Pipeline maintains the equipment will go back to work soon enough as the federal government is required to review the permit and the company has the right to appeal the appeal. But even with that in mind, pipeline fighters are reveling in their first substantial win since this all started.
"It's been a spark of hope for a lot of people who are in despair, maybe avoiding the issue because it was just too heartbreaking, and some of those people are starting to get back into the fight," Santo said.
Pipeline fighters say those with property in the construction zones have been told in order to stabilize the erosion that factored into the stop work order the pipeline needs to go in the ground. Property owners however disagree with that claim and are exploring options.