MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. – Some opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline are still sitting high up in the trees in protest, blocking construction of one section.
The last remaining tree-sit still has support in eastern Montgomery County near Elliston. Many pipeline opponents remain there, at the site that’s called Yellow Finch, which is just off Route 460.
They’ve maintained the protest for the last eight months -- through snow, rain and wind -- blocking the pipeline’s path and preventing tree-cutting. Multiple protesters have rotated through the two tree-sits during that time.
Crystal Mello took her turn this past weekend, taking the position for about 48 hours.
“I can’t picture [the pipeline] coming through here,” she said. “Somebody’s pockets are getting fat off of putting all of us in danger, even their own workers.”
A grandmother who cleans houses, she said it was emotional being up in the trees, supporting the anti-pipeline cause.
“We all drink water. We all love these mountains. We all love our neighbors.”
She said hearing stories from landowners who’ve reported damage to their property and hearing of explosions along other pipeline routes motivated her to take action. Her biggest worry is that a pipeline would cause an explosion.
“This is definitely not a Democratic thing. This is definitely not a Republican thing. This should be the most bipartisan thing ever,” Mello said.
The protesters can hike up an adjacent mountain to get a birds-eye view of the tree-sit. There, they can see a path of downed trees miles long -- trees, which still remain on the ground.
People who live close to the path, like Penny Artis, remain concerned about the project’s effects.
“The environment means nothing. Money means everything,” she said.
The pipeline opponents hope to keep their protest going.
“The trees that are still standing are being held the best we can, to keep them from coming in,” Artis said. “We’re not eco-terrorists. We just want to live to see tomorrow.”
The MVP remains neither finished nor dead.
A company spokesperson said Monday that it’s more than 80% complete and is still on track to be done by the end of the year.
“We respect the opinions of those who are opposed to the MVP project and, more importantly, we want to ensure everyone’s safety throughout the various phases of the construction process,” spokesperson Natalie Cox said in a statement sent to 10 News.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline planned path runs from West Virginia into North Carolina, crossing through Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties in the commonwealth. The natural gas pipeline would travel 303 miles and is estimated to cost $4.6 billion.
Opponents have documented hundreds of alleged examples of environmental harm the project has caused, including water quality effects from storm runoff and erosion.
The project has been met with opposition since the planning stage. Opponents have voiced concerns in local meetings and federal court proceedings, and staged sit-in style protests that have ranged from so-called tree-sits -- in which some protesters have positioned themselves in the path of construction workers for more than a month at a time -- to protests in which opponents have chained themselves to construction equipment in order to delay work.
A federal agency issued a stop-work order in August for the project, citing environmental concerns. The order was lifted later that month for all sections except two stretches that cross federal land.
In October, a federal court pulled a federal stream-crossing permit, which was a major setback for the project.
In December, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and the Department of Environmental Quality filed a lawsuit against the MVP, citing environmental violations.
The company behind the MVP said it received a letter in January from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Virginia stating that it and the EPA are investigating potential criminal and civil violations of the Clean Water Act and other federal statutes related to the pipeline's construction.
The MVP cleared a hurdle in March when the State Water Control Board decided it will not consider revoking a key permit. The news came after many pipeline opponents called on the board to take action against the project.