Woman Sleeps In Trees For Weeks To Protest Legal Pipeline

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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In an attempt to block construction of a pipeline, a Virginia woman has camped out 30 feet high in the trees for weeks and is refusing to leave her perch.

A woman in Roanoke County, Va., is not a fan of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project that will be built across West Virginia and Southwestern Virginia. The woman, who refers to herself only as “Red,” climbed into a tree stand in Bent Mountain on April 1 and has yet to come down, telling local media outlets she will stay for “as long as it takes.” Upon starting her outdoor protest, Red stocked up with plenty of food and water to keep her from having to climb down. Other pipeline opponents have since given her food, and her daughter has taken up residence in a nearby tree.

Red is under the impression the natural gas pipeline will bring immediate and prolonged destruction to the surrounding forrest. “I would like to enjoy these woods and not have to wait 200 years for them to grow back,” she told a local media outlet in an April 3 statement. “My kids will end up with this. I don’t want them living on a bomb.”

Tree felling is needed to make way for the 300-mile, 42-inch-diameter pipeline that will ultimately connect with another interstate pipeline. While Red’s campout has prevented crew members from cutting trees around the area, the overall project is still underway as workers simply focus on construction needed elsewhere.

“As this is such a minute portion of MVP’s 303-mile route, the disruption created by opponents has not changed the overall outcome of the project, which remains on target for a late 2018 in-service,” an April 3 Mountain Valley statement reads.

Supporters can no longer give Red additional food and water, local law enforcement said.

“They will no longer be allowed to receive supplies from supporters. Anything the individuals need will be available to them when they come down from the trees,” Roanoke County officials noted in an April 13 statement. Red and her daughter are in the right of way granted to the pipeline company via a court order, the county pointed out.

It’s not clear how much longer the 61-year-old protester can stay camped out in the trees, as she will no longer be given more food. Local lawmakers have begun to sympathize with her plight. Numerous Virginia state Democrats held a news conference on Wednesday to protest authorities’ handling of the situation, using the time to also voice criticism of the pipeline project itself.

“She hasn’t been convicted of anything, and she’s being treated in an inhumane fashion. I think it’s outrageous,” Virginia state Sen. John Edwards said and claimed Red was being treated worse than prison inmates.

For its part, the Mountain Valley Pipeline went through all the necessary legal hurdles before beginning construction. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission officially approved the project in October 2017, and other state regulators have green-lighted it. Crew members have removed trees while carefully adhering to rules protecting local species.

Development of the pipeline is expected to create over 4,500 jobs. More specifically, 2,829 jobs would be directly involved in construction; 633 would be made along the supply chain; over 1,000 would be added to the general economy. The pipeline will generate $47 million in aggregate tax revenue, analysts estimated.

“We recognize there may be individuals who will always oppose the safe construction of Mountain Valley Pipeline, regardless of the significant effort made by public officials and regulatory agencies to review the project, and the hundreds of route adjustments and modifications made during the past three years to address concerns of landowners and community members,” Mountain Valley Pipeline spokeswoman Natalie Cox said in a statement on Wednesday .

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