Opposition to the Sabal Trail construction is growing and becoming more and more organized. Demonstrations, forums and protests are popping up all over the state with greater numbers of people showing up as the public is learning about the unnecessary threats and risks of this boondoggle.
We say boondoggle because we have a gas glut already, Florida does not need the gas line, as the current pipes are not near capacity, our governor (who has investments in the pipe) has railroaded this through the state agencies, eminent domain has been employed erroneously as most of the gas will be exported, and our fragile karst geology of springs and rivers has been imperiled.
There is a myriad of reasons to kill the pipeline, which will serve only to make those in power rich. State and federal agencies have rubber-stamped the project, in spite of being informed of the inadequacies and flaws in procedure.
Continue reading for excerpts from this excellent article by Andrew Caplan in the Dec. 4, 2016 Gainesville Sun, or go to this link for the entire article: http://gainesvillesun.fl.newsmemory.com/default.php?pSetup=gainesvillesun&_ga=1.236735745.1626290264.1445477431
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Protests pick up steam
By Andrew Caplan
The number of Sabal Trail protesters is growing — slowly, but surely.
What was once isolated groups harping “water is life,” has turned into organized demonstrations, protests and information gatherings throughout the state to stop further construction of Sabal Trail Transmission’s 515-mile natural gas pipeline.
The $3 billion project, whose parent companies include Spectra Energy and Duke Energy, will cross 700 bodies of water and land owned by hundreds of people, some who have lost their rights to the land through eminent domain lawsuits. The pipeline will carry up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day through a dozen Florida counties, including Alachua, Levy, Marion, Suwannee and Gilchrist.
The most recent batch of protests came last weekend when five groups set up near different areas affected by the pipeline to shout about why the pipeline is unsafe for the environment and why they believe those who live near the 3-footwide siphon should be afraid. Two groups gathered in Live Oak in Suwannee County, two in Gilchrist County and roughly 100 people took to the streets in downtown Orlando on Sunday with signs in hand to contest the Sabal Trail, as well as the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, a member of the Sierra Club and Our Santa Fe River, headed the movement in Gilchrist County near a construction site close to the Santa Fe River where 14 members of a protest were arrested earlier this month. She said the movement’s growth is progress, but not where she would like it.
“About 60 people showed up,” she said. “There were police everywhere. We didn’t get the hundreds that we wanted.”
Still, the group in Gilchrist County accomplished its goal of informing others about the pipeline and letting Sabal Trail officials know they aren’t quieting down anytime soon.
But the protests didn’t go without incident. Malwitz-Jipson said police were on scene before they arrived and threatened to arrest the group as they were walking across a bridge and back to their cars.
Gilchrist Chief Deputy Jeff Manning said he did not hear of any issues regarding the weekend protest and that officers were there as a precaution in case crowds were large.
Panagioti Tsolkas, an organizer with Earth First!, said his experience with protests has helped rally the movement and for 50 to 100 people to show up for a few hours is an accomplishment in itself.
At least 83 percent of the population affected by the pipeline is in rural communities, he said.
“The government exploits the fact these people are in disposable populations. It’s proven to be a challenging community to organize with, ” he said.
The batch of recent arrests hasn’t helped, either.
Tsolkas said arrests have deterred some from joining the movement. He said some of the arrests could be construed as violating people’s rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. To arrest people for “walking slowly” in front of a construction site seems silly, he said.
Environmental advocate Cindy Noel, who recently held a four-day encampment to spread awareness about the Sabal Trail pipe line, is one of the protesters wary of rejoining the signholding movement.
She said she ’ s not permit ted near the construction site due to being one of the 14 people arrested two weeks ago. Her husband, Mike Roth, has been protesting, though. Noel said she was charged with felony trespassing and misdemeanor disorderly conduct after walking under a water truck, which was roughly 4 feet off the ground. She said the truck was blocking the middle of a county road to stop protesters from walking.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Noel said. “They started picking us off. They had already planned to arrest all of us.”
Noel fears spending several months in jail if arrested near a construction site again. She said those who were arrested and wore masks received an extra $5,000 fine and at least four vehicles were towed that day.
Malwitz-Jipson said Sabal Trail construction workers are acting as if they are “entitled” to more land than their permitted loo-foot-wide path, even telling protesters where they can and can’t park cars.
“They’re pretending to own the roads,” she said.
Protesters say they were blindsided by the quickness of the pipeline’s approval and construction process and were left with little time to gather with other concerned citizens orunderstand just what it all meant. Some protesters largely blame Gov. Rick Scott, who has been reported to own a blind-trust investment interest in the pipeline through Spectra Energy.
In 2013, Scott signed two bills to speed up permitting for Sabal Trail Transmission. Within months, the Florida Public Service Commission, with five members appointed by Scott, unanimously approved construction of the project as the state’s third major natural gas pipeline, according to the Miami Herald. Further approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which Scott oversees, have also been pushed through with little resistance.
Multiple calls and voicemails to Sabal Trail Transmission were not returned. —Contact reporter Andrew Caplan at andrew. firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AACaplan.
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