MVP tree-sitters allowed to stay in pipeline's path, judge rules

Federal judge denied injunction Friday from pipeline's parent corporation

ROANOKE, Va. – Good news arrived Friday for opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

A federal judge ruled that tree-sitters blocking construction in eastern Montgomery County will not be forced down from their positions.

EQT, the corporation backing the pipeline, has been pushing to have the protesters removed so it can begin with tree-cutting in that location, which is just off Route 460 near Elliston.

Judge Elizabeth Dillon denied Mountain Valley’s injunction Friday in Roanoke federal court. It could have led to U.S. marshals showing up to force down the tree-sitters.

The two tree-sits near Elliston are the last remaining ones in the MVP path. Multiple unidentified people have rotated in and out of them.

Pipeline opponents say multiple people have been arrested in the last month at that site for allegedly being on the pipeline’s planned path.

Dillon said in her written decision that she ruled this way in part because the property owners are not helping the protesters.

“There is no allegation or proof here that the tree-sitters are acting in concert with the landowners,” Dillon wrote.

In past cases, both property owners and tree-sitters have faced punishment from the same federal court for actions deemed to be preventing pipeline construction.

A similar Mountain Valley request did not go the protesters' way. In May of last year, Dillon ruled that “Red” and Minor Terry needed to come down from their Roanoke County tree-sits after being up in trees on Bent Mountain for more than a month.

A Mountain Valley Pipeline spokesperson said that the company is still going to try other ways to get these tree-sitters down.

The pipeline is expected to be completed by the middle of next year.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline’s 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 corporation 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.

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