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Sabal Trail Pipeline brings protestors to Suwannee – Escalates to arrests

Protestors of the Sabal Trail pipeline chanted and sang, Saturday, as they sat in two large circles, some were handcuffed to each other inside the blue tubes. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

By Tami Stevenson

It was a peaceful demonstration, Saturday, where hundreds of protestors gathered near the Suwannee State Park to protest the Sabal Trail Transmission Pipeline that will run beneath the Suwannee River, but by Monday, protests escalated. Two protestors, Kaithleen Hernandez, of Kissimmee, and Alexa Oropesa, of Orlando, handcuffed themselves to the undercarriage of a Sabal Pipeline truck reportedly loaded with drilling equipment in an effort to halt construction. The truck was parked near the site where they are drilling under the Suwannee River near the state park. The two were arrested. At least six other protestors were also arrested between that site and another on Monday, according to reports.

Made up mostly of people from central Florida, many of the protestors are members of a group that has been described as a long-term encampment called Sacred Water Camp, in Live Oak. Jamie Finn, a member of the camp, said on Saturday during the protest that he is from Winter Garden, Florida.

Finn said he was there “...because this pipeline threatens one of my favorite things about Florida and that is our natural waterways. I feel like if we don’t stop this now it’ll be too late.”

However, during the Saturday protest, not all of them were from the encampment. Ron Warner, a self described ‘snowbird’ from Bangor, Maine, had no idea the protest was going on and came upon everyone while hiking at the state park and decided to join them.

Law enforcement made up of Suwannee County Sheriff’s Deputies and Florida Highway Patrol Officers were also there. FHP formed a line behind barbed wire that was set across the drive where workers and vehicles from the pipeline would enter the site from the dirt side road off SR132 where protestors gathered.

Suwannee County Chief Deputy Ron Colvin said law enforcement was there to help protect everyone’s first amendment right to free speech, to protest peacefully. He said they were there to protect the people protesting and the people working at the construction site. FHP Lieutenant Riordan said they were there at the request of the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office and would assist in any way they could. There were no arrests made on Saturday.

The more than 500 mile Sabal Trail pipeline project originates in Alabama. It runs through Georgia and ends in central Florida. According to information from the Sabal Trail website, roughly 268 miles of the pipeline are located in Florida and affects 12 Florida counties, Alachua, Hamilton, Suwannee, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion, Sumter, Lake, Polk, Osceola, Orange and Citrus Counties. The pipeline is expected to produce approximately one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day and provide lower costs for power companies to generate power and ultimately lower costs to the consumer.

The Sabal Trail Transmission is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Corp, NextEra Energy, Inc. and Duke Energy to provide transportation services for power generation needs to Florida Power and Light (“FPL”) and Duke Energy of Florida (“DEF”) by the end of June 2017.

Protestors lined up in front of law enforcement with signs, Saturday. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

Protestors formed circles, sang songs and chanted, Saturday. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson