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Bondurant: Why was press blocked from tree-sitter removal?

Bondurant: Why was press blocked from tree-sitter removal?

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No matter your views on the Yellow Finch tree-sits, please consider the Montgomery County and Virginia State police/ government prohibition of press access to a several mile radius of the tree sitter extraction operation on private rural property for two days this week, and why and how that was allowed to happen. Many legal observers were also prohibited.

At least three government officials — a Montgomery County prosecutor, a Montgomery County supervisor and a Roanoke state legislator — were afforded access by police to observe the site, on private property, swarmed with police in tactical gear and a massive crane and earthmover extraction operation, but the press was denied.

Certainly Del. Sam Rasoul and Supervisor Sarah Bohn’s presence on behalf of constituents was greatly appreciated by many — but by their very positions in “government”— I believe they’d agree — they do not share the independent observational interest and professional expertise of the press, the “Fourth Estate” in a democratic society.

Likewise, Montgomery County Prosecutor Mary Pettit had access and was present at the scene.

Note that Pettit shared frankly, several years ago, that Montgomery County officials had met with MVP officials long before the pipeline was even certificated. Since then the press has shined light on so-called “ FUSION” activities meant to surveil, among other activities, “protests.”

Any possible rationale that the steep terrain or technical operation was too dangerous for press presence is, politely stated, disingenuous. The public and experts have sounded the safety alarm for years to local, state and federal regulators and authorities since the MVP project’s inception, as to the inadvisability of construction.

So, would authorities now assert the operation was too dangerous for the veteran press to access and view the mechanized extractions of people from trees on a site they’ve covered for two and a half years — but not too dangerous, in karst, steep terrain, fragile, erodible soils and gurgling, pristine, springs and streams — to trench, blast, build and impose a permanent 42 inch gas mega-pipeline upon a rural residential mountainside community?

Consider the importance of an independent, active and functioning press in a democratic society. Certainly news can travel more easily today with social media such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., from the tree sitters directly, as happened in some measure here. But the denial of physical access to several veteran journalists over the course of two days, to the physical site where police had, for months, planned an extraction by crane of two young people peacefully protesting in trees is a disturbing development —and one we should refuse to silently accept. To paraphrase the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’

 For protection of all the other rights, privileges and duties that matter to us in a democratic society, a strong, fully functioning and independent press is required. Protection of the presence, the pen and the voice of the press lies in the “First” of our Constitutional Amendments, for good reason.

Bondurant is a longtime resident of Bent Mountain and CoChair of  Protect Our Water Heritage Rights.

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