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Pipeline protester removed from perch on excavator

Pipeline protester removed from perch on excavator


After spending all day locked to a piece of excavating equipment about 20 feet off the ground, a pipeline protester came down Thursday evening to cheers from supporters and charges from Virginia State Police.

Virginia Tech professor Emily Satterwhite was taken into custody following her 14-hour blockade of construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline as it crosses Brush Mountain.

Early Thursday morning, Satterwhite climbed up the boom of a John Deere excavator, which had been left parked overnight on the pipeline construction’s right-of-way through Montgomery County.

She then inserted her forearms into a lockbox device that was secured to the excavator’s hydraulic piston, leaving her stuck in a trap of her own making — and stumping law enforcement officers who were called to the scene to get her down.

Late in the day, using two cherry pickers that came chugging up a narrow Forest Service road, police were lifted on platforms to reach Satterwhite.

Then, they used saws and grinders to free Satterwhite and take her back to the ground at about 8:25 p.m.

Wearing a “Stand with Red” T-shirt, in tribute to another MVP protester, Satterwhite waved to the crowd below, which erupted into applause.

“Be like Emily,” the crowd chanted. “Not like MVP.”

It was not clear what Satterwhite, a professor of Appalachian studies at Tech, will be charged with.

State Police Sgt. Rick Garletts said the charge will likely be trespassing, but authorities were still considering other options Thursday night.

After being checked out by rescue workers on the scene, Satterwhite would be taken to jail, Garletts said.

A representative of the group Appalachians Against Pipelines said Satterwhite’s affiliation with Virginia Tech has nothing to do with the blockade, and she is acting as a private citizen.

Satterwhite used a device called a sleeping dragon to lock herself to the excavator.

A sleeping dragon is an elbow-shaped piece of pipe in which a protester inserts their arms into each end and then chains their hands together inside the device, complicating efforts to remove the person from whatever they have attached themselves to.

Other pipeline protesters have chained themselves to heavy equipment and sat in trees along the pipeline’s path in recent months.

“I guess it was just my turn to step up,” Satterwhite said Thursday morning from her spot about 20 feet off the ground.

As she spoke, state police and U.S. Forest Service officials were arriving on the scene.

By about 9:45 a.m., a half-dozen sheriff’s deputies, state police officers and MVP officials had gathered at bottom of the excavator. They told Satterwhite that if she didn’t come down voluntarily, she’d go to jail.

Satterwhite indicated she was not going to come down and was willing to face the consequences. “It’s not what I want to do, it’s what I’m willing to do,” she said.

After a brief conversation, the officers moved a short distance away from the excavator and huddled in discussion.

At 12:30 p.m., a state police officer used a megaphone to give Satterwhite a second chance to come down voluntarily. She did not.

Then an official with Mountain Valley Pipeline made the same request. “This is not your land,” Satterwhite replied.

As the day wore on, a crowd of more than 30 spectators arrived at the remote scene, stomping a trail along a silt fence that kept them off the construction right of way.

One person arrived with four large pizzas.

Another played Bach on a cello in a vain attempt to drown out the noise of heavy earth moving equipment, which continued nearby as the standoff played out.

On the other side of the fence, a contingent of Mountain Valley construction workers joined law enforcement officers, squinting in a bright sun as they looked up at their human blockade.

“Go home and tear up your own yard,” someone in the crowd yelled across an expanse of freshly bulldozed earth.

Throughout the day, Satterwhite yelled a running commentary about the pipeline’s environmental damage and the failure of state officials to stop it.

Sara Bohn, a member of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, helped mediate negotiations between the protester and the law enforcement officials.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, she’s up there for the long haul,” Bohn said.

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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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