Protests against the Sabal Trail Pipeline, the energy-company-owned natural-gas project slated to run from Alabama to Central Florida, have reached a fever pitch. Over the weekend, hundreds of peaceful protesters picketed and chanted in Suwannee County. They demanded that the triumvirate of energy companies building the $3 billion pipeline — Duke Energy, Spectra Energy, and NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light — reconsider their actions.
But today, the protests descended into clashes with cops. Roughly 90 minutes ago, police arrested demonstrators after a small group handcuffed itself at the pipeline's current construction site.
The sit-in had been planned as a day of peaceful civil disobedience in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In response, a group of police officers, some dressed in bulletproof vests, marched arm-in-arm toward demonstrators and wrenched them from the construction site near Live Oak.
An hour ago, a group of protesters sat cross-legged while reading excerpts from King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Local cops stood with their arms crossed in front of the protesters.
"I pray that this chaos will stop and the beautiful Suwannee will be restored," one protester said, while at least two other activists sat chained to a construction truck:
But around 11:30 p.m., police lost their patience with the sit-in. Just before noon, they began ordering protesters to leave the camp.
"Vacate the roadway!" the cops began shouting:
After protesters asked what laws they were breaking,
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New Times has reached out to the demonstrators via Facebook Messenger. This post will be updated if they respond.
Though protests against the Sabal Trail Pipeline have been far smaller than those for the infamous Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, police and activists have clashed regularly for the past few months. On November 12, more than a dozen anti-pipeline activists wound up in police custody after one protester locked himself inside a tanker truck outside Gainesville.
But since the storm over the Dakota Access Pipeline has died down, environmentalists have increasingly turned their attention to the Sabal Trail. Many climate-change activists and scholars believe it's time the nation stopped investing in fossil-fuel infrastructure — but the Sabal Trail project has continued unabated regardless.
Many believe this fact is due to Florida Gov. Rick Scott himself: Scott once made a $108,000 investment in Spectra Energy, one of the companies building the pipeline. Spectra, however, has a long documented history of environmental accidents in Florida.