As protests of the Mountain Valley Pipeline intensified this week, local and federal authorities charged three people in what have so far been peaceful demonstrations.
Roanoke County police were called Wednesday to a farm off Russwood Road in the Bent Mountain community, where a crowd of about 15 people had gathered in a face-off with crews that were cutting trees along the pipeline’s path.
One of the protesters was charged with interfering with the property rights of Mountain Valley, which has received state and federal approval for the pipeline. The other was arrested on an outstanding charge of providing false information to police during a similar incident two days earlier.
Police described the scene as “civil, with no threats of violence or serious issues,” Roanoke County spokeswoman Amy Whittaker said.
Also this week, Freeda Cathcart of Roanoke, who has twice run unsuccessfully for seats on the Roanoke City Council and in the Virginia House of Delegates, was arrested in a separate incident in Giles County.
Cathcart was charged with resisting or interfering with a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer on Pocahontas Road in the Jefferson National Forest, where pipeline opponents have been gathering to support two protesters sitting in trees and a third one atop a pole in an effort to block tree-cutting.
In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, the officer wrote that Cathcart “actively and physically resisted being handcuffed” when she was being escorted away from the protest site.
Reached Wednesday, Cathcart said she was driving and could not talk. She had not returned the call by late evening.
Cathcart is at least the fourth person to be charged in connection with protests in the Jefferson National Forest. So far, there have been no successful efforts by law enforcement to remove the tree-sitters or a woman on a platform suspended from a pole that blocks Pocahontas Road.
Other supporters of the tree-sitters have been charged with blocking a Forest Service road, reckless driving on Pocahontas Road and assault.
More recently, a second cluster of protests has formed on Bent Mountain, where a woman has been sitting in a tree stand along the pipeline’s right of way since April 2.
The arrests on Wednesday took place several miles away. Stephanie Stallings Davis, 37, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was charged with interfering with permitted construction activities. Zakaria Ismael Kronemer, 24, of Silver Spring, Maryland, was charged with providing a false name to police officers.
Some of the protesters are complaining that Mountain Valley is illegally cutting trees after a March 31 deadline set by federal wildlife protections.
But that deadline applied only to trees identified as habitats for threatened or endangered species of bats, according to Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox. All of those trees were felled by March 31, Cox said.
“As permitted by law, the MVP project team continues to move forward with tree felling in other areas along the route that did not fall under the March 31 restrictions,” Cox wrote in an email.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the lead agency overseeing construction of the pipeline, agreed with Cox’s statement. Mountain Valley has until May 31 to cut the remaining trees, FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said.