14 activists arrested protesting Sabal Trail pipeline in Florida

Sabal Trail pipeline and DAPL protest
Liza Epstein protests the Sabal Trail pipeline. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (2016 Nov. 15).

This week there were protests around the world – and here in Florida – by people opposed to construction of the Dakota Access pipeline through tribal lands in North Dakota; but demonstrations against a compressed natural gas pipeline being built in Florida are getting less attention. That’s despite recent arrests of environmentalists protesting the Sabal Trail pipeline in Florida and contamination of a river in Georgia during construction of the pipeline there.

Mike Roth lives along the Santa Fe River northwest of Gainesville and has been protesting about a mile and a half from where he lives at the location the Sabal Trail pipeline is planned to go under the river.

What is the Sabal Trail pipeline and why are you opposing it?

“Well, the Sabal Trail pipeline is a 515-mile pipeline that’s running from Alabama through Georgia through Florida, to Orlando where it’s gonna hook up with some other pipelines that are in place or being put in place to take [liquid compressed natural gas, LNG] — they have compression stations along the way to continue to keep it compressed and keep it moving. The compression stations themselves are kind of a problem, but, that’s another story.

“This pipeline is not particularly necessary, at this time and that’s one of the issues. Florida Power & Light has indicated that they have enough energy to provide until 2024. A lot of this is for export.

“At the same time that their building this pipeline we know that they’re also building up the ports in Crystal River, Jacksonville and Miami–in their LNG areas–so, it looks like their looking to export most of this gas.

“So, there’s no real need for it, at this time, yet, their going through all the wetlands in Florida. They’re going under several rivers into some very dangerous areas. Probably the most dangerous aspect of the entire thing is that they’re running alongside the Floridan aquifer. An aquifer that provides about 60% of the fresh water to the entire state of Florida.”

There is a camp of protesters up in your area. Tell us about that camp and then what happened last Saturday.

“Well, the Sacred Water Camp has been around for a while, a couple of months. That’s up in the Live Oak area, sort of near where it’s going to go through the Suwannee [River].

“The second camp was just a weekend camp. It was kind of a consciousness raising and techniques camp protest that was held right near the Santa Fe River. Actually, we hosted it at our house. That ran like Friday through Monday.

“There was a couple of demonstrations during that weekend, too.

“During the course of that weekend, we discovered in one of those demonstrations, that they were actually taking water, at the rate of about 100,000 to 200,000 gallons a day, out of the Santa Fe River and just transporting it to the other side of the river, where they were using it to do the drilling, where it becomes mixed with all kinds of chemicals and filters right back into the river. That raised some eyebrows in the area.”

You saw polluted water going into the Santa Fe river?

“We didn’t see the polluted water going to the river. We did see the hose that was sucking the water out of the Santa Fe River.

“The river happens to be at a critical level right now, as well. When we tried to talk to the Suwannee River Water Management District about it, they said rules are in place, that they’re not out of line. They can take up to 100,000 gallons a day on an annual average. Which means they could actually walk in and take 36,000,000 million gallons out today, if they want, they just can’t do it any more for the rest of the year. But, they said the rules are in place and I never did get an answer to whether their management district is empowered to suspend the rule in an emergency situation, which we would contend we’re in.”

Why do you call it an emergency?

“We haven’t had rain in a month. The river is a very, very low level, right now. The river was already distressed and it was recognized as a distressed water body prior to the drought. So, now we’re in worse shape and here they come in and they’re taking out massive quantities of water to do the drilling.”

And Saturday, 14 protesters were arrested. Why? What happened?

“Saturday was another one of the protests, at the river. We’ve had several works trying to peacefully let them know that we object to what they’re doing and point out some of the problems with what they’re doing.

“At this particular protest, one gentleman stopped a water truck from entering the facility, by attaching himself by a bar to one of the axles of the truck. The rest of the people that were there–there were about 20 at one time–the rest of the people that were there were all peacefully holding signs, taking pictures, chanting and doing things that are generally considered a First Amendment right.

“However, when the police came and released that guy, they rounded up all the other, well, 14 people that were left there, at that time. They brought them all in and charged them all the same. They charged them all with Felony Trespass. They’ve charged them all with Disorderly Conduct.

“The fact is, there may be one guilty Trespass in the whole group and the group was, throughout the entire process, quite orderly. Then they charged several of them with wearing a mask during the commission of a felony, which would presume that the Felony Trespass would stick”

When you say a “mask,” they were wearing bandannas, I heard, too…

“They were wearing bandannas on a very, very dusty road. If you come up into this area, the road’s a dirt road–like I said we haven’t rain in quite some time–and any activity on the road kicks up a tremendous amount of dust. So, really these people were trying to protect their breathing apparatus with bandannas. But, they were charged with wearing a mask in a commission of a felony.”

Were they on private property or were they on a public street?

“This is along a public road. Specifically, 117th Way, which is a Gilchrist County road.”

What’s happened to the 14 who were arrested.

“They were arrested on Saturday. It took them about 12 or 14 hours to get booked. Which, unconscionable, I thought, on the part of the Sheriff’s Office. None of them were able to make phone calls, because they weren’t allowed to make phone calls until they were all booked. By the time they were all booked, the phones were shut off. Then, the next morning, they weren’t allowed to make phone calls, because between the time that the phones were turned on and they had to appear for the bond hearing, the Sheriff’s Office said they didn’t have enough time to make the calls. So, for example, I didn’t get to speak to my wife from the arrest at 11:46 on Saturday, I didn’t speak to her until about 10:30 on Sunday morning, after the court hearing.”

She was arrested?

“She was arrested.

“There were several students that came to protest, from Gainesville, that were there. Nobody knew– their families didn’t know where they were. There was actually concern that they were, that they had disappeared. They didn’t know where they were. They didn’t find out until Sunday. You know, you worry about traffic accidents and things like that.

“That’s the story about the arrests. But, the judge released my wife on her own recognizance, because she’s a Gilchrist County resident. Seven, I think, or eight of the others had $2,000 bonds and the rest had $7,000 bonds. The higher bonds being to those who were wearing masks, and it’s just plain bandannas. The judge kept referring to them as masks and so I keep calling them masks, but, yeah they were bandannas.

“We got together and raised the money to get them bonded out on Sunday.”

What’s the next step? Do they have a court hearing?

“They may and they may not. It depends. The state’s attorney is looking at the charges. If the state’s attorney decides to bring the charges, then yeah, they will have court hearings. But, right now they’re all awaiting court dates. We’ll see what the state’s attorney says.”

Are there more protests planned?

“There’s a protest today in Gainesville. Twelve of the fourteen that were arrested were there, holding signs on one of the … street corners in Gainesville. Then about an hour and a half into the protest, there was a march down to the Army Corps of Engineers office in Gainesville. The idea was to let the Army Corps of Engineers know that we want them to revisit the permitting of the Dakota Access pipeline and the Sabal Trail pipeline.”

Last month, I think it was, the Sabal Trail pipeline sprung some sort of leak in the drilling mud, in Georgia. What do you know about what happened with that leak and how extensive the damage was?

“I don’t think it was last month. I think it was in the last couple of days, actually. I know that they tried to contain it with the floating barriers and they weren’t really going to say anything about it, which was kind of disturbing. Yeah, I guess a couple of weeks went by before people noticed the sludge in the river and complained about it and it came to light. But, it’s kind of indicative of how the company operates. They try to be very secretive. We can’t get answers at the worksites to any of our questions.

“We worry about who’s going to tell us when these leaks happen, when construction issues arise, and when the aquifer is breached. And don’t know before we do. And if they don’t have to let it out, they won’t let it out.

“We’re concerned because we drink that water.”

So, what’s happened is they drilled into the limestone and then because the limestone is porous, they cracked– their drilling ended up mixing the mud, the material that they use to drill with and it ended up mixing with the aquifer and then getting into the river?

“Well mixing with the water, it got into the river itself. Particularly everything that goes into the river, siphons to the aquifer, that’s the concern.”

Those are my only questions. Is there anything else our listeners should know about the Sabal Trail pipeline?

“They’re going through some really sensitive wetlands in Florida. Areas that are like cardboard. It’s thin layers of earth with water in between there and as they go through those, they’ll collapse on themselves and we’re worried about sinkhole creation. There was just a sinkhole in one of the adjacent counties, that’s the kind of thing that would not in fact bode well if a gas pipeline were going through there.”

Video posted on Facebook Wednesday shows a construction machine tearing down full-grown pine trees in Levy County. It’s described as private property that includes a family cemetery along the construction route of the Sabal Trail pipeline.

Water activists say the pipeline endangers the Floridan aquifer. Roth says digging the route for the pipeline could contaminate the Santa Fe River like happened recently in Georgia where crews were drilling a path for the Sabal Trail pipeline under another river.

Roth says most of the compressed natural gas that it would transport would be exported and thousands of gallons of water are being taken from the river for construction of the pipeline.


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