Advertisement
  1. News

Mass sit-in targets controversial Sabal Trail Pipeline at Suwannee River

Demonstrators make their way down Second Avenue S during a march protesting the Sabal Trail Pipeline in downtown St. Petersburg on Dec. 29. Opponents fear the environmental consequences of the $3.2 billion Sabal Trail Pipeline, a 515-mile conduit for natural gas that is planned to snake through Alabama, Georgia and Florida. At 268 miles, the Florida section is the longest, and will involve drilling beneath the state's most famous river, the Suwannee. A mass protest is scheduled for Suwannee River State Park at 10 a.m. Saturday. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
Published Jan. 13, 2017

The clash over the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota — and the success opponents have had temporarily blocking it — has inspired a Florida group opposed to a controversial new pipeline cutting through North Florida. They're planning to hold a major protest this weekend.

Construction has already begun on the $3.2 billion Sabal Trail Pipeline, a 515-mile conduit for natural gas that when completed will snake through Alabama, Georgia and Florida. At 268 miles, the Florida section is the longest, and will involve drilling beneath the state's most famous river, the Suwannee.

The protest, which formally begins with a sit-in on Saturday, was scheduled for this weekend because that's when the drilling under the Suwannee is supposed to begin, said Panagioti Tsolkas, former editor of the Earth First! Journal and an organizer of the Sabal Trail Resistance group. The fact that it's also the start of the weekend celebrating civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a bit of serendipity, he said.

Their goals, according to their Facebook group, is "putting a wrench into the gears of the pipeline machine" with a mass sit-in.

Although smaller protests have been going on in that area for months, only 16 people have been arrested so far, he said. This new protest may lead to far more arrests. So far 6,000 people from all over the country have signaled an interest in joining the protest via its Facebook page, he said — including Dakota Access protest veterans from Standing Rock, he said.

"We will plan to avoid the risk of felony charges, and anticipate any arrested will be released by the following morning," the group organizing the protest says on their Facebook page.

Among those arrested already: St. Petersburg resident Katherine "K.C." Cavanaugh, 33, who has hiked — and sometimes danced — along 250 miles of the pipeline's Florida route. When asked why she danced, she said "I wanted to give back to the Earth."

But she said she was neither hiking nor dancing when she was arrested last month in Gilchrist County.

Cavanaugh was helping escort some reporters along a public road near the construction site to take photos when she said a deputy ordered her to stop and hand over her driver's license. When she asked why, she said she was again told to hand over the license. A third try asking why, she said, resulted in her arrest for obstruction.

"We weren't even protesting," said Cavanaugh, who said she ended up spending the night in jail in the small town of Trenton, near Gainesville. Prosecutors there did not respond to a request for comment regarding the fate of her case and her fellow defendants.

Sabal Trail opponents have also held smaller protests in St. Petersburg and four other cities across the state, just as opponents in the other states affected by the pipeline have picketed the project.

The Sabal Trail pipeline is designed to deliver 1 billion cubic feet of fracked natural gas a day from the Marcellus Shale to power plants, some of which formerly burned polluting coal. While burning natural gas admits large amounts of carbon dioxide, it's cleaner than burning coal.

However, the use of fracking to extract the gas has been blamed for polluting nearby waterways. It's also been blamed for an increase in earthquakes, such as the magnitude 5.6 temblor that hit central Oklahoma last September, prompting the state to order 37 fracking disposal wells to be shut down.

The pipeline would be the third major line to bring gas into the state. Florida's large utilities say the line is necessary to meet the growing demand for natural gas, which runs many of their power plants. The line crosses into Florida in northern Hamilton County, just north of Suwannee River State Park, and continues southward through Central Florida counties, including Citrus and Polk.

Along the way, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, building the pipeline will require destroying 900 acres of wetlands. The company building it, Spectra Energy, has promised to make up for the destruction, mostly by buying credits from privately-run wetland mitigation banks that have preserved or restored wetlands elsewhere.

"Wherever possible, the new pipeline follows existing rights-of-way to substantially limit environmental impacts and effects to landowners," Spectra spokeswoman Andrea Grover said.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued the pipeline a permit to destroy the Florida wetlands a year ago, and the Army Corps of Engineers followed suit in August. The work has also been cleared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

"The environmental impacts of this project have been determined by FERC not to be significant," Grover pointed out.

Opponents strongly disagree. Several organizations, including the Sierra Club, have gone to court to overturn the permits. Much of the route takes the pipeline through the area where many of Florida's springs are, and they contend a leak or spill could be disastrous. They also cite concerns that construction could cause sinkholes, a frequent hazard in Florida's karst terrain.

Opponents of the pipeline blame a sinkhole that opened up in Osceola County last month on Sabal Trail construction 2,000 feet away. A number of families had to be evacuated from a condominium complex affected by the December sinkhole in the Kissimmee area.

However, Grover said, that sinkhole "is nearly a ½ mile away from the pipeline route and is not attributable to Sabal Trail's construction as the opposition promotes."

She noted that a pipeline has a much smaller construction footprint than highways, which have also been built through that area, and added: "In the highly unlikely event that a sinkhole opens beneath the pipeline, the pipeline can safely span distances that exceed 100 feet."

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of John Travlos and Germana Morin aboard Travlos' houseboat in 2013, takes the stand in his own defense Tuesday. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, accused of killing two aboard a houseboat in 2013, told a different version of the same story his girlfriend told. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
  2. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    One of the messages included a picture of a pellet gun, Tampa police said.
  3. The lobby bar at the Current Hotel on Rocky Point in Tampa serves eclectic cocktails and locally brewed coffee. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Take a look inside Tampa Bay’s newest boutique hotel.
  4. Adjunct faculty at St. Petersburg College voted to unionize Tuesday, joining thousands of other adjuncts across Florida who are fighting for better working conditions and pay. [Times]
    The employees are the seventh group in Florida to join Service Employees International Union in recent yeas as it pushes for investment in the state’s higher education institutions.
  5. A pauper's cemetery was established at the northeast corner of property now occupied by King High School in Tampa, location of the school gymnasium (tall building at top left) and the main parking lot. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Conflicting versions emerge of where Ridgewood Cemetery was located. One thing is certain: It was ignored or forgotten.
  6. The University of South Florida ranked ahead of UCF, FIU and FAU in the U.S. News & World Report's Global University Rankings. [USF handout]
    The University of Florida finished 105th, while USF came in at 310. Harvard led the world.
  7. An anti-government protester raises his hands during clashes with police in Santiago, Chile, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. The government said Tuesday that 15 people have died in five days of rioting, arson and violent clashes that were sparked by a hike in subway fares and have almost paralyzed the country. RODRIGO ABD  |  AP
    Riot police used tear gas and streams of water to break up marches by rock-throwing demonstrators in several streets of Santiago on Tuesday.
  8. The Florida Bar wants the state’s highest court to immediately suspend the law license of Tampa attorney Jose Angel Toledo, ex-husband of state Rep. Jackie Toledo. FACEBOOK PAGE  |  Su Abogado Hispano
    José Angel Toledo, ex-husband of state Rep. Jackie Toledo, abandoned his law practice, according to the petition from the Florida Bar.
  9. West Palm Beach police spokeswoman Molly Anderson said during a news conference on Tuesday that Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Rudelmiro Santizo Perez on Monday in Houston as he tried to flee to Guatemala. West Palm Beach Police Department/Facebook
    Police began investigating on Oct. 3 when a hidden camera was found inside an employee bathroom at St. Mary’s Medical Center.
  10. This Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, photo shows the graded dirt surface where sod will be placed in November inside what will be the stadium for David Beckham’s Inter Miami MLS soccer team that opens its inaugural season in 2020 at the site of the former Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. TIM REYNOLDS  |  AP
    Construction is on schedule, with all signals pointing toward everything being ready for the team’s first home match that’s likely to come in March.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement