Activists to protest Florida's other environmental issue-in-the-making Saturday in St. Pete

click to enlarge A swath of environmentally sensitive land in central Florida known as the Green Swamp. - Southwest Florida Water Management District
Southwest Florida Water Management District
A swath of environmentally sensitive land in central Florida known as the Green Swamp.

Editor's note/disclosure: the author of this post plays in a band with an organizer of this event.

Environmentalists are up in arms about the influence of monied interests on the decision that ignores the public's concerns while putting delicate yet critical ecosystems at risk.

Can you guess which instance of such behavior has inspired them to protest outside the Duke Energy Florida headquarters in St. Petersburg Saturday?

Nope, not that one.

Not that one, either.

This one? Nah.

Actually, it's another possible Florida eco-disaster in the making, activists say: the Sabal Trail Gas Pipeline.

In recent months and with the blessing of state and federal officials, construction on the pipeline has quietly begun. Once complete would carry natural gas 474 miles from Alabama to central Florida, where it would then be used to power homes.

Advocates of natural gas say it burns cleaner than other fossil fuels and that it's also cheaper. But environmentalists say building pipelines to transmit it destroys natural lands and promotes the controversial practice of fracking, among other things.

Scheduled speakers at the 10 a.m. event include Sierra Club Florida organizing director Frank Jackalone, Native American activist Tracy Penokie (a participant in the protests against the pipeline in North Dakota) and Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The hope is to draw attention to a project over which there is little controversy despite what they say is a big deal and potential detriment to environmentally sensitive areas, including a key central Florida wetland, the Green Swamp.

That's an area near Lakeland through which the pipeline would slice. 

As its name suggests, it is a lush expanse that serves as headwaters for multiple Florida rivers, and the porous limestone beneath it holds part of Florida's water supply.

The pipeline would run along much of the length of the state, and its construction would result in what organizers are calling a 50 to 100-foot "scar" along that length, including in Green Swamp.

They fear the limestone that underlies much of the state would corrode parts of the pipeline, and gas leaks, which happen somewhat regularly could spew untold amounts of methane —a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide — into the air.

They're holding the event near Duke's regional headquarters, where they plan to gather at the northeast corner of Williams Park at 3rd Street and 2nd Avenue North. They chose that location because the energy giant has a financial stake in the company that's building the pipeline.

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