A mother and daughter who had been camped high in trees for five weeks to protest a natural gas pipeline near Roanoke, Virginia, climbed down from their roosts Saturday after a federal judge threatened to start levying heavy fines.
Theresa “Red” Terry, 61, and her daughter, Theresa Minor Terry, 30, had perched on platforms in trees on the family’s Bent Mountain property since April 2 to protest construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The women endured sub-freezing temperatures, high winds, snow and rain in their efforts to stop tree-clearing and to rally opposition against the 303-mile pipeline, which will carry gas from West Virginia through the mountainous southwest section of Virginia.
Late Friday, a federal judge said the pipeline company had legal authority to be on the land, found the women to be in contempt and gave them until 11:59 p.m. Saturday to come down. If they didn’t, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Dillon would have imposed a $1,000 fine against each woman for every day they continued to defy the court.
Dillon also authorized U.S. marshals to take command of the situation and bring them down by force if necessary or practical.
In addition, the judge found Coles Terry III, Red Terry’s husband and Minor Terry’s father, in contempt for his continued support of the women’s efforts. She fined him $2,000.
After the ruling, Coles Terry said the women would come down. Even if they didn’t mind paying the fines, he said, the judge had directed that the money be paid to the pipeline builders – a notion that disturbed the Terrys.
Shortly after 4 p.m., the protesters climbed down from their trees on a ladder hoisted by law enforcement officials to a large group of supporters gathered near their trees – along with Roanoke County police and state troopers, who have been monitoring the sites around the clock.
Red Terry unfurled an American flag from her stand, according to a report in the Roanoke Times newspaper, and Minor Terry began flinging out sleeping bags and other supplies before rappelling down her tree. The newspaper reported that she was greeted with a summons from local police, who last month had charged the pair with trespassing.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is being built by a coalition of companies led by EQT Midstream Partners.
Lawyers for the project told the judge that the delays caused by the Terrys cost the pipeline more than $15,000 and that security and related efforts around the tree-sitting zones cost more than $25,000.
In her order, the judge said that the Terrys were free to express their opposition to the project but noted that they had contested it in court and lost. The pipeline therefore has a legal right to do the work on its right of way through the family’s property.
“The Court understands that the Terrys and others are disappointed and frustrated with the situation,” Dillon wrote. But they “have resorted to actions that clearly violate this court’s order and MVP’s rights under it. Even if their conduct is viewed as a form of civil disobedience intended to focus the public’s attention or to express their opposition to the project, those who disobey valid orders of a court should be prepared to face the consequences of doing so.”