Anti-pollution activists lock themselves together at TECO plant - police use saws to free them
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08/31/12 Janelle Irwin
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Activists made tube-shaped locks around their arms that police removed with circular power saws.


photo by Janelle Irwin

Seven environmental activists locked themselves down yesterday during a direct action at the TECO power plant in Apollo Beach. Even though police spent hours cutting the locks that linked protesters no one was arrested.

Earth First! activist Leah Rothchild wanted to use the Republican National Convention as a loudspeaker for the group.

“Because this is the dirtiest coal burning power plant in the state of Florida and TECO whose power plant it is, they’re a contributor to the RNC.”

So the activists secretly planned three lockdowns at the plant with smokestacks as a backdrop. Rothchild said two groups of three attached themselves to each other in the middle of one of the roads trucks use to make deliveries including coal. The demonstrators were connected with homemade tubes.

“Which are created usually from PVC pipe as well as a series of materials that makes it harder for the police to cut through. We definitely want to delay the amount of time that we can be out here. We want to delay traffic. We want to get a lot of attention.”

Police had to use circular power saws to free the activists’ arms and legs from the lockboxes. It took police over an hour to free the first group. Another activist who used chains on himself was the first person to be cut loose.

“He was locked down – he was u-locked to the top of the truck and he’s been arrested already. Up the road, we have three more activists. Everybody who came to this site today to take part in this non-violent, civil disobedience direct action knew that they had the potential of getting arrested.”

But no one did. Rothchild said she negotiated a deal with Hillsborough County Sheriff Deputies.

“We’re all going to walk away and we don’t want to cause any more disruption today. We’ve definitely made our point. We came here to show a major opposition, we came down here to shut down business as usual. We’ve very awesomely made our point. We thank all the media and all the support for everybody who’s come out, but when everybody is free we’re going to all leave together.”

Hillsborough County Sheriff Major Ray Lawton struck the deal with Rothchild as police from various law enforcement agencies across the state brought in for the Republican convention worked on cutting the pipes linking the activists. He told reporters that the agency had reached a deal with Earth First!, but it was contingent on everyone leaving the area immediately after the lockbox was severed.

“Are we included because we’re actually journalists covering what’s happening?”

“Everybody starts to go so we can go back to work. If not, we have to retain the people because we don’t know who’s who and what everybody’s intent is.”

About 100 supporters from the Occupy Tampa and Romneyville encampments came on two buses to support the Earth First! direct action. Katie Christofilis brought popsicles, peanut butter sandwiches and water to share with activists. Before hearing the protesters who locked themselves together would be released, Christofilis said the police were being overbearing.

“We wanted to give them food and water and they will not allow us to get to them to feed them. They brought three water bottles over and fed them a little bit. They’re handling them not so gently. They’re twisting them, contorting them however they need to in order – I think they’re goal is to unattach them without much regard to their safety or their well being.”

And she wasn’t the only person denied access to the restrained protesters. A street medic who asked not to be identified said she wasn’t able to do what she came to Tampa to do.

“As a registered nurse and a street medic I tried to negotiate across the line to see if we could just check in, make face time and make sure that they’re ok. They allowed access to one of our street medics that’s a paramedic and they took her by herself and I negotiated to try to go as a buddy and they denied me access to go up to the folks that are down the road. So they had her go by herself which is not a good idea and they won’t let us five feet in to just go check on these people.”

The act of civil disobedience was on a back road in front of the power plant a mile from U.S. 41. Police officers and deputies put crime scene tape around power poles blocking the road to traffic. Some officers told occupiers who were going to support the Earth First! direct action that it was a crime scene. Anthony Robledo said the group continued walking anyway.

“All they said is do not go this way. They asked us to not go that way. That’s all they stated; they did not state anything about trespassing or that we would be arrested if we came this way.”

One activist called WMNF after the action and said there were 21 trucks on the side of the road whose deliveries to the power plant had been delayed by the road closure.

In an email, Tampa Electric spokesperson Cherie Jacobs wrote:

"The protesters did not disrupt power plant operations. Also please note that Big Bend is one of the cleanest coal plants in the country, with state of the art emissions reduction technology. It was part of Tampa Electric's $1.2 billion investment in environmental improvements in the past 10 years that dramatically reduced emissions of our plants."



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