In St. Pete, activists give hard no to proposed Florida pipeline

click to enlarge In St. Pete, activists give hard no to proposed Florida pipeline
Terrence Smith

Activists are taking the battle against the Sabal Trail Pipeline from rural construction sites in the middle of the state to Florida's cities.

In St. Pete on Thursday, a gathering of about 150 marched through downtown to call attention to the natural gas conduit, which will bore through much of the state's geology.

The protest was part of a statewide action, with synchronized action in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Jacksonville.

“We as a community of St. Petersburg have a lot of power when we stand together, especially when it's combined with other cities around this great state,” said Megan Weeks on behalf of a local chapter of Greenpeace as she addressed those gathered before the march. “We truly can accomplish great things, and I think it is represented in the sheer amount of people that we have brought out for this cause. Today we are standing here in solidarity with our neighbors, with all Floridians and for environmental and social justice.”

The Sabal Trail Natural Gas Pipeline is a gas pipeline planned to cover 515 miles spanning from Tallapoosa County, Alabama to Osceola County in Central Florida, cutting through the state's porous underground aquifer in places.

Kasey Cavanaugh, who said she hiked and danced along the proposed Florida leg of the pipeline earlier this year, described what she saw.

“I got to see first hand the areas that it's going to be affecting. It's going right through people's yards, it's going through state parks, it's going through all our major rivers, the Suwannee the Withlacoochee and the Santa Fe. In...Alabama, Georgia and Florida, it's going through 699 water bodies. This is going to be major.”

Activists say they're concerned with proposal's potential impact on drinking water, namely from the actual construction project — which will puncture the Floridan Aquifer in places — as well as the impacts of the practice of fracking (that's how the natural gas that courses through the pipeline will be mined).

“It's called natural gas, but it's far from natural. It's fracked gas, and fracked gas has tons of different chemicals in it,” said Cavanaugh. “All pipelines leak, so if it leaks, it's going right into our water and if you're not familiar with the topography of Florida we have soil that is Swiss Cheese. There's already been sink holes forming from the construction of this pipeline.”

click to enlarge In St. Pete, activists give hard no to proposed Florida pipeline
Terrence Smith

Marchers snaked around the city, stopping at the buildings of those that stood to benefit from investing in the pipeline: Duke Energy, which has 7.5% ownership of pipeline with $225 million invested, as well as banks whose shareholders have invested in the project like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Northern Trust, UBS Financial Services and Morgan Stanley.

Along the way they shouted building specific slogans such as “fire the climate deniers” at Duke Energy and “change the politics not the climate” at St. Petersburg City Hall (St. Pete City Council has consistently passed pro-environment resolutions, including one opposing fracking).

Those gathered drew parallels to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project and seem to hope members of the general public will do the same. And they hope to sway energy providers to take renewable energy more seriously. Protest organizers seemed emboldened by the overwhelming No vote on Amendment 1—which power companies invested tens of millions of dollars in as an apparent attempt to block the expansion of solar power; they think that voters in general want elected officials to protect the environment more aggressively, and believe they will—eventually.

Until then, protests will continue. And they will become bigger and more visible. The next step for organizers is a mass civil disobedience demonstration at Suwannee River State Park on January 14 and 15. The Sabal Trail Pipeline is scheduled to be completed in mid-2017.

While time is running out, there is still hope in St. Pete.

“Until there is gas running through that pipeline and even after there is gas running through that pipeline, we can stop this,” Cavanaugh said.

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