After more than three months of hindering construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, opponents on Friday lost their last two aerial blockades of the controversial project.
A protester on an elevated platform blocking a road to a pipeline construction site in the Jefferson National Forest was brought down about 8:30 a.m. Later in the day, a man in a tree stand at the top of Peters Mountain, several miles away, gave up his position.
Law enforcement officers with the U.S. Forest Service and Virginia State Police “safely removed” a woman on a platform suspended above Pocahontas Road in Giles County, where she had been camped out since May 21, a Forest Service spokeswoman said.
Authorities used a cherry picker to reach Catherine “Fern” MacDougal and bring her to the ground, according to Appalachians Against Pipelines, which has been documenting protests of the massive natural gas pipeline.
MacDougal, 30, was taken into custody but released a few hours later.
Authorities charged her with four misdemeanor offenses: blocking a Forest Service road, maintaining an improper structure, violating a closure order and resisting law enforcement officers.
At a hearing Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Pflegar said the government was not likely to seek jail time.
Several hours later, Appalachians Against Pipelines reported on its Facebook page that a tree-sitter decided to come down on his own after law enforcement officers and climbing equipment made their way to the base of his tree in a remote part of the forest. He was given a citation, the group said, but additional details were not available late in the day.
The man, known publicly only as Deckard, had been occupying a tree stand in the pipeline’s route that went up on Feb. 26 — the first in what became a series of aerial blockades in four counties along the project’s 303-mile path.
Although all of the protesters have either been extracted or decided to descend under pressure, “the fight is far from over,” Appalachians Against Pipelines said in an online statement.
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline remains a dangerous project, installed by force, and part of a network of dead end disasters for water, climate, communities, and ecosystems.”
MacDougal is a graduate student at the\ University of Michigan and has been involved in other environmental causes.
On the day she took her position on a contraption strung across Pocahontas Road about 30 feet above the ground, she said she was inspired by “Nutty,” a second woman who was living on a platform suspended from a pole that blocked another part of the road.
Nutty came down voluntarily May 23 after running out of food and was given a citation. Forest Service officials have declined to identify her or say what she is charged with.
With Nutty’s blockade out of the way, authorities were able to move heavy equipment farther up the mountain to reach MacDougal.
The road leads to the top of Peters Mountain, where Deckard was stationed.
In March, the Forest Service closed Pocahontas Road to the public, citing the dangers of pipeline construction. Mountain Valley needs the road to reach a construction area where a tunnel will be bored for the 42-inch diameter pipe to pass under the Appalachian Trail.
“The protests in the Jefferson National Forest have unnecessarily prolonged the closure … and violated federal law,” Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox said Friday.
Staff writer Neil Harvey contributed information to this story.