The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Women sitting in trees to protest pipeline come down after judge threatens fines

In April, law enforcement officers stand below the platform where Theresa “Red” Terry protests a natural gas pipeline.
In April, law enforcement officers stand below the platform where Theresa “Red” Terry protests a natural gas pipeline. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
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A mother and daughter who had been camped high in trees for five weeks to protest a natural gas pipeline near Roanoke 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.

Perched on a platform high in a tree, 61-year-old woman fights a gas pipeline

The women endured sub­freezing 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 in contempt and gave them until 11:59 p.m. Saturday to come down. If they didn’t, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth K. 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.

Va. governor says treesitters’ protest ‘unlawful,’ cites health concern

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 go 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 supporters gathered near their trees — along with Roanoke County police and state troopers, who have been monitoring the sites.

“I’ve gotten to hug and see all my family, and I’ve gotten the bacon cheeseburger I’ve been craving,” Minor Terry said several hours after coming down. She said she and her mother decided on their own that it was time to come down. “I rappelled out of the tree under my own power,” she said. Her mother climbed down a ladder.

Minor Terry said she had no regrets.

“We have brought national attention to this, and that was amazing,” she said. “Now that we’re on the ground we have the ability to continue this battle — by no stretch of the imagination are we giving up.”

She and her mother plan to attend a Dominion Energy shareholder meeting this week, Minor Terry said, to draw attention to that company’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is being built elsewhere in the state. She said they hope to persuade Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to slow the pipeline approval process and take a harder look at the environmental impact, especially on waterways.

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 opposition to the project but said 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 their actions “clearly violate this court’s order and MVP’s rights under it.” Even if seen as civil disobedience intended to express opposition to the project, the judge said, those who disobey valid court orders “should be prepared to face the consequences.”