Pipeline fight raises free speech concerns

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MONTGOMERY CO., Va. (WDBJ7) The U.S. Forest Service is promising an "expeditious, but cautious resolution," to the tree sitters protest on Peters Mountain. But the revised order closing areas along the pipeline corridor is also raising concerns about free speech.

The Forest Service has designated the Caldwell Fields Campground as a place where people can exercise their first amendment rights. But this area is in Montgomery County, far from Monroe County West Virginia where the tree sitters are located.

Last week, law enforcement officers from the U.S. Forest Service travelled to and from Peters Mountain on four-wheelers, posting revised notices closing the pipeline corridor.

They didn't remove the tree sitters then, but are expected to return.

In a written statement, a forest service spokesperson said the agency "recognizes that first amendment rights are an important privilege of every U.S. citizen, However, public health and safety must also be considered."

In a video posted on the Appalachians Against Pipelines Facebook Page, an anonymous speaker said the designation of a free speech area has more to do with removing protesters from the mountain, than protecting anyone's first amendment rights.

"The police's responsibility is to remove us from these trees, to ensure the inevitability of this pipeline," the speaker said. "We see their free speech zone as a tactical means of expediting this process."

Pipeline opponents were planning a rally in support of the tree sitters Monday night in West Virginia.