Mountain Valley Pipeline protest (copy)

In June, Michael James-Deramo was handcuffed by authorities after he had chained himself to an excavator at a Mountain Valley Pipeline site in Montgomery County.

A man who chained himself to an excavator, preventing construction workers from using it to work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline for half a day, was placed on probation Tuesday.

Michael James-Deramo, 26, pleaded guilty to interfering with the property rights of Precision Pipeline, a contractor hired by Mountain Valley, in Montgomery County General District Court.

He received a 60-day suspended jail sentence, was put on supervised probation for 12 months, and was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service, Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt said.

Early on the morning of June 28, James-Deramo climbed up the boom of an excavator parked in a construction zone off Bradshaw Road. He then inserted his arms into a lock-box device called a Sleeping Dragon, which kept him secured to a cylinder of the machinery.

When Virginia State Police approached about midday with a warrant for his arrest, James-Deramo agreed to unlock the device and come down, Pettitt said.

James-Deramo, a former Blacksburg resident who now lives in Richmond, served as a community organizer for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and has been active in fighting the 303-mile natural gas pipeline under construction through West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

His protest was one in a series of efforts to hinder work on the project, which is opposed by those who say burrowing a 42-inch diameter pipe across rugged mountain terrain and through clear-running streams is a recipe for environmental disaster.

The courts have suspended two key permits for Mountain Valley, and a pending lawsuit accuses it of violating erosion and sediment control measures more than 300 times in six counties in Southwest Virginia.

In a statement released in June following his arrest, James-Deramo said he was dismayed to see the pipeline’s impact on a place where he grew up playing in the forests and later hiking the trails.

“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.

A second charge against James-Deramo, tampering with a vehicle, was dropped. As part of the plea agreement, he was ordered to stay at least 100 yards away from any Mountain Valley construction site.

Since spring of 2018, about 50 people have been charged in the two Virginias with sitting in trees, occupying other airborne blockades, chaining themselves to equipment and blocking work in other ways. Most have received suspended jail sentences.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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