CHRISTIANSBURG — A 76-year-old pipeline protester who chained herself to a crane last fall at a Montgomery County work site resolved her charges with a plea agreement Monday and said she has no regrets.
“Why did I do it? Because pipelines are poisoning our Mother Earth and I can’t sit around and do nothing while this was happening,” Glenna Benjamin of Durham, North Carolina, said after a hearing in Montgomery County General District Court.
Benjamin faced five misdemeanor charges from a Sept. 27 incident near Elliston, where protests against the Mountain Valley Pipeline have been continuous for more than a year. Benjamin attached herself to construction equipment, locking down her arm inside a pipe marked with the word “Resist.”
On Monday, Benjamin entered a not guilty plea to a charge of trespassing but said that there was enough evidence to convict her. Defense attorney Chris Tuck of Blacksburg and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Morgan said they had worked out an agreement that Benjamin would be found guilty of trespassing but that other charges — of obstructing free passage, resisting arrest without force, tampering with a vehicle, and failing to obey an order from a conservator of the peace — would be taken under advisement.
Judge Gino Williams imposed the sentence recommended in the plea agreement — a $200 fine, with the entire amount suspended; and an order that Benjamin stay at least 100 yards away from Mountain Valley property and rights-of-way. Williams said that Benjamin also is not allowed to threaten or harass pipeline workers or representatives.
“I get to be the referee” for what constitutes threats or harassment, Williams noted.
“Please do not come back,” Williams told Benjamin at the end of the hearing.
In the nearly two years since construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline began, about 50 people have been charged with trying to block its West Virginia-to-Pittsylvania County route.
In more than 20 incidents, opponents have held tree-sits, occupied other aerial blockades, chained themselves to construction equipment or the pipe itself, sat in an elevated Ford Pinto in the project’s path.
and locked themselves to the blades of a helicopter used by Mountain Valley for erosion control.
Nearly all of the charges in Virginia have been for nonviolent offenses such as blocking the construction of right-of-way or interfering with the rights of pipeline workers. But one protester was convicted of assault and battery in November for throwing water on two workers at the same Elliston site where Benjamin was arrested.
At that site, a pipeline right-of-way off Yellow Finch Lane, pipeline opponents have occupied two trees in the pipeline’s path since Sept. 5, 2018. They maintain a camp nearby.
On Monday, speaking in the courthouse hallway after her hearing, Benjamin drew smiles from about a dozen supporters as she said plans to continue opposing the Mountain Valley Pipeline. But she said her return to the protests wouldn’t be immediate.
“I think I’m going to wait ’til spring when there’s no ice on the road,” Benjamin said.