IRONTO — The person clinging to an excavator parked in the construction zone of the Mountain Valley Pipeline was barely visible.
A crowd of fellow protesters, blocked from getting any closer to the scene, stood at the edge of Bradshaw Road, yelling, chanting and using megaphones to be heard.
“We love you up there,” one person shouted.
Others then joined in a refrain: “One, two, three; f--- the MVP,” they chanted.
Around midday Friday, Virginia State Police used a mechanized lift to remove Michael James-Deramo from the boom of the excavator, to which he had chained himself about six hours earlier. He was charged with two misdemeanors: entering private property to damage it and preventing the operation of a vehicle.
James-Deramo, 26, of Blacksburg, is a former community organizer for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and has been active in fighting the 303-mile natural gas pipeline, which is under construction in West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.
In a statement released by Appalachians Against Pipelines, James-Deramo said he grew up in the area, playing in the forests as a child and hiking the mountains as he grew older.
“We have watched as this pipeline has wreaked havoc — from Brush Mountain to Peters Mountain, from Four Corners Farm to Bottom Creek — not just havoc on the land, but on the lives and mental well-being of individuals, and the sanctity of place and safety,” he said.
Mountain Valley has been accused of violating regulations meant to control erosion and sedimentation more than 300 times, according to a lawsuit filed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the State Water Control Board.
The company has attributed the problems to extraordinarily heavy rainfall last year. In the past, it has blamed “obstructionists” for trying to interfere with a project approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other agencies.
Since work on the pipeline began last year, police in Virginia and West Virginia have charged about 40 people who sat in trees along the pipeline’s path, occupied other aerial blockades, chained themselves to construction equipment or tried to block the project in other ways.
“It’s not because we are overly sensitive snowflakes,” Emily Satterwhite, a professor of Appalachian studies from Blacksburg, told members of the water board earlier this week.
Rather, she said, the protesters see their direct action as the only way to try to stop a destructive project that is being allowed by regulatory agencies to move forward, despite repeated problems.
Last summer, Satterwhite was charged with two misdemeanor offenses after she spent a day chained to a piece of Mountain Valley construction equipment near the top of Brush Mountain. A judge ordered her to perform 200 hours of community service.
Elsewhere in Montgomery County, protesters have been occupying two tree stands along the pipeline’s right of way off Yellow Finch Lane since September. Mountain Valley asked a federal judge in December for a preliminary injunction to have them removed. No decision had been issued by 5 p.m. Friday.
Joining the group of pipeline protesters at Friday’s event was Sara Bohn, a member of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.
Like several other governing bodies of counties crossed by the pipeline, the board went on record against it several years ago, even though it didn’t have the power to stop it.
“We’re frustrated by the lack of authority we have,” Bohn said. “Our hands are tied. Obviously, we had no choice of it coming through our county.”
Although James-Deramo’s action was aimed at blocking construction, pieces of heavy equipment continued to traverse a nearby steep slope during his approximately six-hour stand.
Still, pipeline opponents hope word will spread about his protest and others like it.
“I have watched so-called ‘decision makers’ turn their backs,” James-Deramo said in his statement. “Simultaneously, I have witnessed the growth of resistance, a resistance that does not answer to corrupt laws and refuses to respect the authority of those that exploit us.”