As winter approaches, two Mountain Valley Pipeline protestors in Elliston, VA, continue to live among the trees along its route . Much of the work has been on hold since early October, after permits to cross waterways in its path, were suspended by the Army Corps of Engineers. Nonetheless the tree sitters and up to a couple of dozen supporters and protestors, persist.
The tree sitters recently passed the 50-day mark, perched on their platforms above the pipeline work site. Lauren Bowman Clontz recorded the sound of crews cutting trees in September. In an essay for Blue Ridge Outdoors, she recalls growing up in those mountains, reveling in their wild beauty. But, she writes, she never thought about the “price of these things. Nor did she know that “people were willing to destroy everything that’s above ground to get what’s under it.” So, the 24-year-old is living in a tree to protest construction of the pipeline because, “It’s the only thing left to do.”
Another 24-year-old, manning the other platform, has no permanent address. Phillip Flagg travels from protest site to protest site when he hears of a cause he believes in. “I heard they needed people, I’m a person.”
His last protest was at an action against a pipeline in St. Louis
“I’m fighting this pipeline in particular, but I really see what I’m doing as fighting against an entire way of seeing the world and of being in the world of which this pipeline is only one small example.”
Flagg says he’s not being paid to sit in a tree stand, far from it.
“People like myself just live in poverty and often times, we suffer. So, when I’m going from one place to another, I hitchhike, when I’m hungry I dumpster dive, or beg for and that’s the life that I live. So, is that authentic? I think so. I do this full time, but I don’t get paid to do it, so I have to live in poverty that’s the only solution.”
It's mostly quiet in the forest now with work crews gone to North Carolina. They’re expected back later this month. Flagg says he spends times reading, watching the leaves change color and quietly sitting in protest.
Despite the current suspension of construction, the Mountain Valley Pipeline company expects work to be complete and in service by late 2019. It cites “work delays by environmental opponents” for adding costs to the project. It announced last month, that the 300-mile pipeline project, once estimated at 3.5 billion dollars, is now projected to be 4.6 billion.