As thousands gather at Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, closer to home, activists are trying to stop construction of the $3 billion, 515-mile Sabal Trail Transmission pipeline slicing through Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Not only does it put the environment and water supply at risk, but activists fear the flammable natural gas flowing underground could cause an explosion, health problems, or death.
"There's no contingency if something blows up," says activist Anita Stewart, who is in Hernando County, just west of Orlando. "This pipeline is going by schools and Section 8 apartment complexes, and no one knows that it's being installed."
SpectraEnergy Corp is behind the project. Natural gas will be provided to Florida Power and Light, which is owned by NextEra Energy, Inc., and Duke Energy. The pipeline is more than three years in the making. In April, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the Sabal Trail pipeline a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which gives the private energy company the right to eminent domain. So far, Sabal Trail has filed 160 eminent domain lawsuits throughout the three states. One Georgia family sued the energy giant for trespassing after surveyors were found on their land. They lost, and now SpectraEnergy is suing that family for $47,000 in court fees. Though a few dozen activists sprinkled throughout the state are now protesting the construction, the project is slated to be operational by May 2017.
Activists blame corporate interests for the speedy approval: Gov. Rick Scott signed into law two bills designed to speed up the permitting of the Sabal Trail Transmission, while at the time he owned $53,000 in Spectra Energy.
"Everyone is talking about Standing Rock," Stewart sighs. "I'm asking people, 'Hey, you're here in Florida and this affects our water and land right here, from the panhandle to Miami.'"
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Last Saturday, police arrested 14 protestors in Gilchrist County (near Gainesville) for interfering with the truck getting into the work site. One activist reportedly even locked his neck to a truck that was delivering water. Charges include disorderly conduct and trespassing. Ron Reedy, an activist based near Fort Drum Creek in Central Florida, is currently welcoming activists to help him stop the pipeline's construction.
A retired fireman who once worked on an oil rig in the ocean, Reedy has made it his life's effort to protect our water supply and environment. But what he has witnessed on these pipeline construction sites has scarred him emotionally. Over the weekend, he says he saw workers in Fort Drum Creek use a giant track hoe to bludgeon an otter family to death. Earlier this week, he documented an oil sheen on the water.
"They was basically just this family of otters playing, and they took this bucket, this track hoe, and smashed it down on them," Reedy says, holding back tears. "There's no respect for life putting this pipeline through."
Anyone who wants to get involved is urged to reach out to Stop Sabal Trail on social media.