West Virginia Novelist Vows to Stop Mountain Valley Pipeline

Interview with Becky Crabtree, Mountain Valley pipeline opponent, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

The Mountain Valley pipeline is being built across 303 miles of West Virginia and Virginia, with a possible extension into North Carolina. It would carry fracked gas, most likely for export as liquefied natural gas and provide no benefit to the people whose land, air and water have been impacted by construction.  The pipeline is about 55 percent complete and the most difficult parts of the route — water crossings and mountain grades — have not yet been constructed. Some permits have been revoked due to violations, and others have not yet been secured, so work has stopped for now.

The people of the region who have been fighting the pipeline for eight years have attended hearings, submitted testimony, organized protests, and engaged in direct action such as blocking the pipeline route with cars or tree sits. Thus far 84 people have been arrested across the length of the pipeline.

Becky Crabtree is a teacher and published author in her 60s who lives at the base of Peters Mountain on the West Virginia-Virginia border. When all the other actions she took to oppose the pipeline were ignored, she decided to lock down inside her old car, parked across the easement for the pipeline on her own property. She never agreed to sell her land to the company, so it was taken by eminent domain. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, who recently completed 12-days walking and driving the pipeline route with local opponents on what they called the Walk for Appalachia’s Future, visited Crabtree at her home on May 28 to hear her story.

BECKY CRABTREE: I wrote politicians and I signed petitions. I wrote letters. I went to public meetings. I’m not a speaker, but I spoke passionately at public meetings – all to no avail. Went to a legislator and he laughed when we told him, “We got to stop this pipeline.”

We have a state attorney general. He advised me that this was not a crime. I had reported it as a crime, coming across property without the common good being part of it. If the state or the county had wanted to build a hospital on our property, or a school, or even a blasted highway, we would have given them the land. But the proposal was for a natural gas pipeline that, as you know, is probably not going to support any of us, that is probably going to be shipped overseas, at great profit to the corporation, and at minimal, money being exchanged to us. We just paid $100,000 for 25 acres, and they offered us $12,000. We did not accept it, so it was condemned and they took it. That’s my sad little story of landowner rights.

MELINDA TUHUS: How do your neighbors feel about this? Do they agree with you about the pipeline, or do they support it?

BECKY CRABTREE: Part of the agreement is not to speak out against the pipeline, when you get money. I interpret contracts to my own liking, and I think maybe speaking out against the pipeline is different than speaking out for the environment.

I don’t know exactly how to tell this story yet (locking down on the easement). It was very exciting; it was akin to being in labor, because you know something good’s gonna happen, but it’s not particularly pleasant (laughter). So, I was in the car, welded in, locked in…

MELINDA TUHUS: I’m sorry, can you give a little more background about why you did it and where?

BECKY CRABTREE: Why I did it was to block the pipeline from going one more foot and to make a statement. Since then, our illustrious legislature has passed felony status legislation so if I were to do it on my own property in protest of infrastructure such as a pipeline, it would be felony charges. And I went and talked to the guy in the legislature last spring and said, “This is America! This is how America was built – people protesting things that are not right.” And he kind of (dismissive gesture) and walked off. At any rate, that wasn’t the law then. I knew the people of Monroe County were not going to send me away for sitting in my car on my property – property that I had fought to keep.

I teach at James Monroe High School. I have kind of a sense of the mentality of my students, which is the mentality of their parents. And I knew I wasn’t going to be punished for sitting on my own land. However, I was arrested and I was charged. It was for saying when he said, “Becky, you’ve got to get out of the car” and I said, “No, sir, I can’t” and that’s obstruction.

MELINDA TUHUS: Because you were locked in?

BECKY CRABTREE: I was. I was chained through the dashboard to the engine block. And the car was either welded or locked shut, and boy, it didn’t take them long to get in. The Pinto is not made of superior steel (laughter). And when they were trying to figure out how to unchain me and they wanted to get under the car, my husband was there and he evidently cares something for me, because he was very concerned that they were going to do something to tip that car over, the pipeline fellas. So, he immediately said, You policemen are trespassing. This is private property – get off it.

So, that was a little bit of a row. And meantime, friends are playing music from the ’70s (laughter). It was just quite the gala event. The bottom line is that for half a day, I blocked the pipeline. It’s not a big deal. It’s not a big thing, but it was big to me.

MELINDA TUHUS: But what an inspiration!

BECKY CRABTREE: Well, I don’t know. We got some good publicity out of it. That was good. And it showed other landowners you don’t have to take it. I mean, we might not win. I don’t even believe that we will lose now, but at that point, we might not win, but you got to have some dignity in this world. You got to stand up for something.

MELINDA TUHUS: How far advanced is it here, digging up your land?

BECKY CRABTREE: The pipe’s in the ground on our land, but it has to cross Wilsonville Road down in this valley, and then it should go across Mr. Allen’s fields and across Peters Mountain up that way, but there is nothing in the ground, from our neighbor – it has stopped at the edge of the road on his property. They did ours, they did one more landowner’s, and it has been stopped for two years. They can’t cross the National Forest on Peters Mountain. But that is always subject to change. It is so steep – we call it Grab a Tree steep, going up there, because you can’t walk up it. Nobody has ever built a pipeline this big on this steep a terrain.

For more information, visit Appalachians Against Pipelines on Twitter @StopTheMVP and Appalachians Against Pipelines on Facebook @appalachiansagainstpipelines.

Producer’s note: The audio interview included the number of workers the company expected to die during construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which was incorrect. The interviewee regrets the error.

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