Treesitters descend, threatened with chainsaw, $50,000 bail

31 August 2009

Contact: Charles Suggs, 304-854-7372

PETTRY BOTTOM, W.Va.—The two Edwight tree sitters, Nick Stocks and Laura Steepleton, came down from their 80-foot tulip poplar perches this afternoon and were taken into State Police custody. They have been preventing more blasting from rocking the homes of Pettry Bottom because harmful government inaction has failed to do so. They have both been charged with trespass, obstruction and littering, and their bail has been set at $25,000 each. For the past five days, they endured psychological torture, verbal assault and threats.

Anonymous eyewitnesses said the Massey-hired security guards were telling the treesitters they were going to rape and kill the treesitters. On Sunday night, the guards put a running chainsaw to both trees, cutting them a little bit. The guards told Steepleton today that they were going to get them out of the tree no matter what because Massey ordered them to.

The State Police were absent from the scene from the time the two ground support were first arrested last Tuesday until Stocks came down today, except for their second arrest on Wednesday. They were also gone while arborists were cutting the trees around Steepleton and as she descended.

Soon after his conversation with Webb, Sgt. Smith had to return to the tree sit due to reports of someone felling the trees with a chainsaw while Steepleton’s whereabouts were unknown. What happened after this is unclear except that both Stocks and Steepleton were arrested.

The guards felled trees around Laura and were going to make Stocks’ tree fall into hers. At this point, Laura decided to come down because, as she said, “These people are nuts.”

Bo Webb of Naoma spoke with Sgt. Smith of the State Police and offered to stand at the base of Steepleton’s tree tonight to protect her from the guards, but Smith said he’d have to arrest Webb if Webb went up to the sit. “I told him he’s arresting the wrong people. I think Manchin is behind this, he’s the Commander in Chief of the West Virginia State Police,” Webb said.

“It’s like nobody wants to listen to the people from the community,” Carol Beckner of Pettry Bottom told Jessica Lilly of West Virginia Public Radio. “If maybe people from the outside comes in and does something maybe they’ll start listening to somebody.

“They have to start listening to somebody.”

“The people of Pettry Bottom and Clays Branch are living below a land slide waiting to happen and the only barrier between fallen trees, mud, boulders and water and the Pettry Bottom community is a wooden stake and tarp fence. The DEP needs to step in and protect its citizens – not Massey Energy,” Steepleton said. “Stop the blasting above Petty Bottom, and end mountaintop removal.”

“They are blasting on the ridge that connects to the structure of the dam [above Marsh Fork Elementary],” Ed Wiley of Rock Creek said. “Massey is recklessly endangering those kids, and the folks at Pettry Bottom. I’m glad those tree sitters are getting in their way.”

Steepleton and Stocks climbed 80 feet up a pair of tulip poplars, within 300 feet of blasting and 30 feet of the Massey Energy Edwight Surface Mine. They unfurled two banners from their treetop platforms: “Stop Mountain Top Removal” and “DEP – Don’t Expect Protection”. Blasting is prohibited when people are within such proximity, as Mining Safety and Health Administration regulations require that people not be hurt in the course of blasting and that non-blasting employees all be cleared from the area.

This was the third protest in two weeks to focus attention on the WV Department of Environmental Protection and their embattled secretary, Randy Huffman. It also follows days after the leak of DEP biologist Doug Wood’s memo on the scale of environmental degradation caused by mountaintop removal, directly contradicting Huffman’s statements at a senate hearing last June.