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Protesters offered coffee, not promises

Published Oct. 12, 2005

Two Greenpeace activists were arrested several hours after handcuffing themselves to train tracks Tuesday to protest the use of chlorine at a cellulose mill near Florida's only industrial river.

Caroline McBee of Orlando and Tom Pynn of Atlanta were arrested by Taylor County sheriff's deputies about 4 p.m. on third-degree felony charges of obstruction of rail traffic, said Gail Martin, a Greenpeace spokeswoman.

A bond hearing is scheduled for this morning.

McBee and Pynn face a maximum sentence of five-years in jail.

A train scheduled to pass over the tracks blocked by McBee and Pynn on Tuesday morning was turned back to Thomasville, Ga., said Jay Westbrook, a spokesman for CSX Transportation in Jacksonville.

But, he added, the train carried only wood chips and empty box cars _ no chlorine, which the protesters said pollutes the drinking water of Taylor County and harms the ozone layer.

Martin said getting a train turned back and sending a message about their position represented partial victories.

About a dozen people stood nearby for about nine hours while McBee and Pynn sat next to the train tracks.

The goal of the protest was to get a commitment from Procter & Gamble to stop using chlorine at its plant in Perry.

The Fenholloway River, which runs about 35 miles from its source in Taylor County to the Gulf of Mexico, is the only river in Florida classified as an "industrial river," a designation held since 1947 that allows higher levels of pollution.

The P&G mill, the largest employer and taxpayer in the rural county, extracts cellulose from pine trees for such products as disposable diapers, coffee filters and rayon clothing. It then dumps 50-million gallons of waste water daily into the Fenholloway.

"This protest represents an affirmation of life against the powers of death," Pynn said as he sat next to the railroad track with his arm handcuffed inside a box welded to the track.

Pynn, 31, and McBee, 35, said they planned to stay as long as it took to send a message about the dangers of chlorine or to get a pledge from P&G to switch to other technology.

When Dan Simmons, a P&G spokesman, arrived an hour or so later, he brought coffee, not the pledge sought by protesters.

"I think we're going to wait until the end of the study with Secretary Browner," he said, referring to Carol Browner, Florida's top environmental regulator.

The $2-million two-year study is more than half finished, Simmons said. He also told the protesters that P&G spent $40-million in 1990 to cut its use of chlorine in half.

P&G provides bottled water to residents and is paying for city water lines to be run 18 miles into the area. The company is trying to sell its plant, but Simmons said little beyond negotiations are continuing.

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