CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Authorities broke up a group of protesters who were blocking an access road that was being used for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
A protest that had been going on for about a month in the Jefferson National Forest on the border of West Virginia and Virginia escalated this morning when pipeline opponents blocked the access road.
The protesters put up a large pole overnight across the access road to the project in the Jefferson National Forest on the West Virginia/Virginia border.
In addition to that, about 30 protesters gathered at the access road gate along Pocahontas Road on Peters Mountain.
The U.S. Forest service called the actions illegal and dangerous.
About 4:30 p.m., the group Appalachians Against Pipelines wrote on social media that authorities had broken up the protest and arrested some of the organizers. The authorities were trying to get one of the protesters off the pole, the group wrote.
UPDATE Cops arrived at monopod blockade on forest service road in large numbers, arrested direct support and dispersed support rally. Currently SHAKING THE MONOPOD TREE and endangering the sitter. #StoptheMVP pic.twitter.com/JHHX0vfRGb
— Appalachians Against Pipelines (@stopthemvp) March 28, 2018
The protester on the pole produced live video of the scene below:
A little after 6 p.m. the protesters said the police had gone away, leaving the protester on the pole.
The U.S. Forest Service, which has authority there, released a statement saying the location of the protest isn’t safe in the first place.
“For the protesters in the areas under the closure order, the protest site is located within an area under emergency closure for the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project and is not a safe or legal location for a protest to occur,” stated Jessica Rubado, spokeswoman for the Forest Service.
The Forest Service on March 11 issued an order closing the access road and a 400 foot corridor along the pipeline’s 3.5 mile route through the national forest.
The protesters were aware the Forest Service would object.
“Yes, I imagine they would object to the road being blocked,” said a protester who spoke with MetroNews this morning.
That protester, contacted by telephone, said the gathering was meant to discourage authorities from taking action on pipeline opponents who have been in platforms in trees along the intended pipeline route for more than a month.
“What this blockade is doing is it’s not only preventing Mountain Valley Pipeline from accessing their worksite but also preventing National Forest Service or State Police of the potential for any extraction of the tree sitters,” said the protester who did not reveal his name.
The protesters said their presence will also halt the daily construction of a 7-mile road leading to the site of the company’s planned boring through Peters Mountain.
Appalachians Against Pipelines put out a release about the latest protest tactics this morning. The protester who spoke with MetroNews answered the phone number that was included in the release.
A group of protesters has been in trees along the pipeline’s intended path since Feb. 26, more than a month now.
Today’s actions ramped up that protest.
Mountain Valley Pipeline is up against a deadline to fell trees along the 303-mile project.March 31 is the end of a window meant to lessen the impact on migratory bird and bat habitats.
The pipeline developers have said if they fall behind, they won’t be able to clear the trees until the same time next year. That would put the project behind and endanger the contracts already in place to supply natural gas, the developers have said.
Lawyers for Mountain Valley Pipeline tried to get an injunction in Monroe Circuit Court, but Judge Robert Irons ruled against the motion last week. The judge said MVP hadn’t been able to prove the protesters were inside Mountain Valley’s right of way.
The Forest Service included a statement today that the agency is committed to an expeditious but cautious resolution.
The federal agency said, though, that remoteness of the area where the protest is located and weather conditions are complicating factors.
Forest Service law enforcement officers are closely coordinating with both West Virginia and Virginia state police and Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC security for assistance and technical expertise, the agency stated.
This morning’s protest is actually on the Virginia side of the mountain.
The protester said representatives of the forest service have been in the area near the tree protesters every day but had not yet taken any action to remove them.
Social media posts from the protesters have indicated for days that they believe some action by the forest service may be imminent.
“Our understanding is folks have talked to the forest service police, and folks have been brought in that we assume are folks trained in extraction and we assume are here to do that work,” the protester said this morning.
Mountain Valley Pipeline would extend 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline over 303 miles to transport West Virginia natural gas into southern Virginia.
The pipeline would go through Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers, and Monroe counties in West Virginia.
The forest service, almost a week ago, designated a spot for protesters to gather at Caldwell Fields in Montgomery County, Virginia — still in the national forest but miles from the tree-sit protest.
“The Forest Service recognizes that First Amendment rights are an important privilege of every U.S. citizen,” the agency stated.
“However, public health and safety also must be considered. To provide for a safe location, the Caldwell Fields Campground on the Eastern Divide Ranger District has been designated as an area for people to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
This morning, the protester who spoke on the telephone said crowds will gather where they believe is right.
“The idea is that folks should be able to support the Peters Mountain stand from wherever they please,” he said.”The forest is public. So to tell us we can’t gather here, we aren’t going to follow that rule.”