Tree sitters win reprieve, as West Virginia judge denies MVP request for injunction

Published: Mar. 20, 2018 at 6:31 PM EDT
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The tree sitters who are protesting the Mountain Valley Pipeline have won the latest round in a West Virginia courtroom.

Tuesday afternoon, a judge in Monroe County denied the company's request for a preliminary injunction.

The hearing came one week after Judge Robert Irons initially said he would grant the injunction. Since then he said additional information had raised a credible issue: whether or not the pipeline company is authorized to clear trees in the specific location where the tree-sitters set up camp.

They are perched on Peters Mountain, close to the point where the company plans to bore a hole beneath the Appalachian Trail. There is a no cut-zone at the top of the mountain, and the tree-sitters' attorney said the company failed to prove the protestors are in an area where the company has permission to remove trees.

"Which side of the line they were on became critical," said Lewisburg attorney William DePaulo. "And the witnesses today couldn't reliably locate that line or the position of the people in the trees."

A surveyor who visited Peters Mountain Monday testified that he and his crew confirmed the tree sitters are in the area where the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authorized MVP to remove trees.

But DePaulo raised questions about survey methods, and the documentation that MVP provided.

The judge said the burden was on MVP, and the information the company provided was not conclusive.

Monroe County landowners who have property in the path of the pipeline savored the victory.

"I've been watching some NCAA basketball and number 16 overturned number one," said landowner Becky Crabtree, " and that's what it feels like today."

"Really, it's a David versus Goliath story," said Jim Gore, another Monroe County landowner who opposes the pipeline. "It gives us hope."

A spokesperson for the Mountain Valley Pipeline provided the following statement Tuesday afternoon.

"While we are disappointed with the Court’s decision, the MVP project team will continue to move forward with construction activities along other portions of the 303-mile route.

As always, we respect the opinions of those who are opposed to the MVP project and we want to ensure everyone’s safety throughout the various phases of the construction process."

At this point, it's unclear what the company's next step will be.

For now, the tree sitters remain on Peters Mountain, and opponents say they hope to build on this legal victory.