WV pipeline protesters face one court loss, but snag victory in another

Photo: Getty Images

Amidst a federal appeals court’s decision not to halt construction on a West Virginia pipeline, protesters blocking the project have been allowed to remain.

The Wednesday night forecast for Peter’s Mountain, on the border of Virginia and West Virginia, included 33-mph gusts and windchill as low as nine degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s there that a group of tree-sitters spent their 24th night on the mountain.

They took to the trees in hopes of blocking, or at least delaying, construction of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will transport fracked natural gas from West Virginia to the lower Mid-Atlantic.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled not to halt construction on the pipeline in a suit brought by environmental groups over environmental and permitting concerns.

But for now, the tree-sitters will be allowed to continue their protest. Supporters had been worried that a Tuesday court decision might lead to their removal, but in a surprise move, a West Virginia judge ruled not to issue an injunction against them.

The camp isn’t totally in the clear, however.

“The WV State Police, Monroe County Sheriff, and US Forest Service have jurisdiction and could all attempt to extract the tree sitters at any time,” said a post on the Facebook page of Appalachians Against Pipelines, the group organizing the protest.

So far, no attempts have been made to remove the tree-sitters.

Subsequent posts on the Appalachians Against Pipelines page showed how protesters were faring in the snow, what they were reading to pass the time, and crews working through potentially dangerous conditions.

All is well on the mountain. The snow covers up the wake of deadened earth that MVP has left behind. The mountain is…

Posted by Appalachians Against Pipelines on Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Roanoke Times reported that the judge’s decision came down to a minor technicality:

Although [Monroe County Circuit Judge] Irons said last week that he was inclined to grant the injunction, his view changed during a hearing Tuesday when William DePaulo, an attorney for the tree-sitters, argued that Mountain Valley has failed to prove they are actually in the route of the proposed pipeline.

In court papers, DePaulo has suggested that the tree-sitters are just outside of the pipeline right of way. That theory would place them within an area 300 feet from either side of the Appalachian Trail’s route along the ridgeline — a zone in which tree cutting is prohibited. But by Mountain Valley’s calculations, the tree sitters are a scant seven feet beyond the no-cut zone’s boundary.

South of Virginia’s border, construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a similar but more ambitious project, hit a snag as well.

On Friday, a federal judge issued a ruling blocking crews from cutting down trees on two pieces of property pending payment to the owners.

Like the Peter’s Mountain protest, which protects only a very small area from being cut, these tracts of land represent a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of other pieces of property on which construction can proceed. Still, the delays could be consequential.

As with the Mountain Valley Pipeline, tree cutting for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is expected to halt at the end of March in at least some areas, when a ban goes into effect to protect migratory and endangered species.

The company overseeing construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has requested an extension in exchange for avoiding trees where certain species are found. It told officials that construction delays could cost it between $150 million and $1 billion.

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