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Apr 20, 18

“A Fire Is Catching,” 8 People in Tree Sits as Police Try and Starve Out Elderly Homeowner

Repression of tree sitters in West Virginia and Virginia continues as now a total of 8 people have launched tree sits to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Cover photo from WDBJ7

Despite lack of food and water, 61 year-old woman stays in tree for 19th consecutive days

On 8815 Poor Mountain Rd in Salem, VA a woman named Red is being starved out by Roanoke Police and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) security. Red is protesting the proposed fracked-gas pipeline which cuts through her property. The land taken by MVP has been in the family since before the US constitution was written, and Red does not want it to be used for transporting fossil fuels. 

As of today, Red and her daughter are facing 3 charges: trespassing, violation of property rights, and obstruction of justice. Red is on her family’s seventh-generation land that they have lived on since the 18th century. 

Mara Robbins has been at the camp in support of Red since the beginning. She says she is there as a last resort to protect the water.

“We feed the Roanoke, the New, and the Dan Rivers. 10,000 miles of watershed, 28 counties, and 4 major metropolitan areas, so we have big concerns about our water, and the water in Bent Mountain.” Robbins said.

Police are shining floodlights on Red during the nighttime, and preventing supporters from delivering food or water. Despite this, Red has no plans to come down anytime soon. As of Apr 20, Red has been denied food and water for nine days, and has been up in the tree for a total of 19 consecutive days.

Red’s daughter is about half a mile away in another tree. She is facing similar tactics from law enforcement, which is primarily composed of Roanoke County police. They have set up a tent in front of Red’s tree, shining bright lights directly at her in the night. 

There was an arrest last week of one person who was documenting MVP’s tactics. Trish McLawhorn, another supporter, said that she did nothing wrong.  

“She was on the property within her right with the landowners permission, documenting the cutting of trees, and she was just arbitrarily asked to move. She knew she was within her right, so she held her space but she was arrested without much of an explanation.” McLawhorn said.

The charges?  “Violation of property rights, and they made up the rule 15 minutes before they arrested her.” Robbins said.

The tree-felling deadline passed on March 31st, but MVP has continued to cut trees illegally.

“They weren’t supposed to touch that water over there after March 15th, because it’s the breeding ground for the Roanoke logperch and the orangefin madtom. Both of these are critically endangered fish. And they have cut trees repeatedly directly into these streams,” Robbins said.

It remains to be seen how this showdown will end, but supporters are concerned for Red’s safety.

“We’re concerned that her will to stay on that platform in that tree may very well supersede any concern for her own health. I’m afraid that her health will deteriorate before her will gives in. And i don’t think that the medics here understand that. They come and ask if she’s ok, and if she needs anything, and she tells them what she needs and then they say no, she has to come down from the tree, which is not gonna happen.” McLawhorn said.

The supporters were asked why this particular method of direct action was taken.

“What other way is there? This is the last stop. When there’s tree-sits popping up all over the place, it’s different. The fire is catching.” Robbins said.

Indeed the “fire” does appear to be catching. On Apr 19, three more people took to the trees at the Little Teel Crossing in Franklin County, VA. There are now eight total individuals in the trees to stop the pipeline, and none of them have come down yet despite the abuse of law enforcement.

“I think a lot of us, we love her, and were very concerned that there’s gonna come a day that she may possibly be in a crisis up there, and she’s not gonna have what she needs and that’s gonna be on them.” McLawhorn said.

How is this legal? Robbins told me that Red has a legal necessity to be up in that tree.

“They’re insisting that she had a choice. She never did. A landowner doesn’t have a choice when their property is taken except to climb in a tree. When you look at it that way, did she have a choice?”

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