On July 28th many landowners and residents of Bent Mountain gathered at the Bent Mountain Community Center to discuss how to respond to the surveyors attempting to enter properties to conduct routing, biological, and cultural surveys for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The community center was, until 2010, the home of Bent Mountain Elementary School. The school closed after its 99th year and has since been used as a library and a hub in the community for classes and events.
Since early July, several people living on Bent Mountain have encountered surveyors attempting to enter their properties despite formal, certified letters of denied access. An estimated 60 people attended the meeting that featured a Q-and-A session with Roanoke County’s Assistant Chief of Police regarding the approach officers would be taking in response to calls.
Roanoke County’s Assistant Chief of Police answers questions from Bent Mountain residents. July 28, 2015. Photo by Will Solis.
The community was transparent in sharing their concerns with the Assistant Chief and with each other. Several questions were raised about refusing survey access, rules regarding landowner presence to deny surveys, and current state laws regarding posting property and trespassing.
The crowd was encouraged to call police if they encountered anyone trespassing on their properties, though the Assistant Chief could not anticipate what sorts of legal action could be taken once officers are dispatched.
“If you call us, we will come out,” he said. “Our primary objective is to keep the peace and push down any conflict.”
“We are following the instructions we have been issued,” he added.
Roanoke County’s Assistant Chief of Police answers questions. July 28, 2015. Photo by Will Solis.
Community members exhorted one another to continue to deny permission either verbally or in writing up until surveyors arrive at their property. Many have designated friends or family members to watch for and meet the surveyors on their behalf. Several people raised their hand when asked who in the room had volunteered as designees.
Individuals who have granted survey permission were still encouraged to confirm survey dates and times ahead of the survey team’s arrival.
Other speakers at the meeting focused on encouraging those in attendance and offering support for the community.
“FERC has acknowledged the opposition to this is unprecedented. Whatever you are doing, keep doing it,” said Mara Robbins, community organizer for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. “I’m sure everyone here has things they need to be doing with their families and children, but you are here, and it’s making a difference, and we thank you for that,” she said in closing.
A sign denying survey access. Bent Mountain. July 2015.
The community meeting was held in what used to be the gym of the Bent Mountain Elementary School. July 28, 2015.
Informational handouts were available for residents. July 28, 2015
Residents listening to Assistant Chief of Police discuss trespassing. July 28, 2015.
Bent Mountain Community Center. July 28, 2015.
Outside the community center after a storm. July 28, 2015.