BRISTOL, Va. – Eight activists protesting mountaintop removal coal mining were arrested Friday morning outside of Alpha Natural Resources.
Bristol Virginia Police Department Sgt. Steve Crawford said officers were called to the corporation’s headquarters at 6:27 a.m. One of the protesters, Crawford said, climbed the flagpole in front of the building, tied himself to the pole and displayed a banner that stated “Save Coal River Mountain.”
The front doors of the building were also locked on the outside with chains, Capt. Maynard Ratcliff said.
When officers arrived, several individuals, who were not chained together, fled into the woods, Crawford said.
He said it took nearly the entire patrol shift and help from the city’s Fire Department to remove the locked protesters. Crews used aerial ladder equipment to remove the man from the flagpole.
Eight activists were transported to the Bristol Virginia Jail.
Their names and the charges filed against them:
Camilo Pereira, 22, of Bethesda, Maryland, obstructing free passage and trespassing. Police said he was also wanted in Maryland on a charge of burglary;
Grabowski Galen Sol Shireman, 19, of Bear Lake, Michigan, disorderly conduct, obstructing free passage, trespassing, and violation of fire codes;
Maleny Crespo, 21, of Lansing, Michigan, obstructing free passage and trespassing;
Glenn Scott David Collins, 26, of Rock Creek, West Virginia, Roger Alden Butterfield, 24, of Sarasota, Florida, Dustin Steele, 22, Matewan, West Virginia, Nicholas Rasmussen Segal-Wright, 23, of Sarasota, Florida and Dakota Rae Steele, 19, of Poultney, Vermont, all charged with trespassing.
All eight protesters were given court dates on June 23.
Mountain Justice, an environmental organization, said the activists were protesting Alpha’s “devastating practices of mountaintop removal coal mining” and the opening of new mines on Coal River Mountain in southern West Virginia.
“That mountain is the mountain I learned to hunt on,” Junior Walk of West Virginia said in a Mountain Justice statement. “It’s the mountain that’s sustained my family for generations. I’ll be a dead man before I see them take what’s left up there.”
Alpha recently began blasting on the 264-acre Collins Fork mine, Mountain Justice said. Local residents and activists have opposed surface mining on Coal River Mountain since the late 1990s.
“I am here today to demand an end to Alpha’s role in the destruction of Appalachia,” said Pereira, one of the arrested protesters. “While coal is exported and profits leave the region, the health effects remain in the communities.”
Alpha Natural Resources spokesman Steve Hawkins said employees were safely able to go to work Friday without incident or delay.
“This was not a group of local residents who were protesting a local issue with Alpha Natural Resources,” Hawkins said. “They are members of a group based in West Virginia that’s protesting a broader issue, one that does not relate to our community.”
Hawkins said the protesters were trying to get the media’s attention and most area residents do not know who they are.
“We certainly respect their right to protest, but they don’t have the right to come onto private property to do so, and they don’t have the right to try and prevent Alpha personnel from getting to work,” Hawkins said. “We’re very grateful to our local police and fire personnel for handling this quickly and professionally. They spent two hours of their time extricating the protestors from the mess they’d put themselves into, and that’s precious time that our first responders were diverted from other serious matters taking place in our community.”
Alpha has developed a protocol to handle protests on the property and Hawkins said it worked well Friday.
Crawford noted that police arrested five protesters last May, when activists blocked the road leading to the company’s headquarters. Protests last May and Friday were the only such incidents Crawford could recall that resulted in arrests at Alpha Natural Resources.