Water Protectors stand up in Florida against Sabal Pipeline

By Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country

While the Dakota Access Pipeline have recieved major headlines around the world, there are other projects threatening water resources across the US. In the Southeast there is a 515-mile-long interstate gas pipeline that will run from Central Alabama through Southwestern Georgia, diving deep into Central Florida.

It’s called the Sabal Pipeline and is advocated by Spectra, a fossil fuel corporation that is responsible for other controversial pipelines currently under construction, who say it will aid in economic development and is expected to fuel gas-fired power generators in the Southeast U.S.

 The $3.2 billion project is being funded by Duke Energy, Nextera Energy and Spectra. Supposed research states that while oil pipelines may not be the cleanest solution, they typically have fewer accidents than other power alternatives and could power the state of Florida better than some current energy sources.

However, accidents happen and when they do, they are far more destructive than solar or wind “accidents”. Florida, the Sunshine State, has no lack of solar power, yet these oil and gas pipeline projects continue to be pushed through.

After a week spent at Sundance Film Festival in Park City Utah, several films there called attention to the pipeline issues including Rumble and Rise.

Once I returned to Miami, I joined up with Tim Canova, a South Florida lawyer who ran for Congress last year and is a major rising star in the progressive movement, and the South Florida Water Protectors, a group that claims solidarity with the controversial projects nationwide. They organized a protest in downtown Miami on Februray 2 that I attended with my artist activist friend Damian Rojo. We stood outside the main courthouse, an ominous building that has seen many Santeria sacrifices of goats and chickens on its steps and houses huge flocks of buzzards in its pyramid shaped roof.

Several Seminoles and Miccosukees joined in with drums and signs and chants. We paraded peacefully but forcefully through the streets towards the Bayfront Park about five blocks away where we ended with some short speeches and future plans.

Groups have been amassing for months at a juncture where PVC pipes sits on a dirt path close to the crystal-clear waters of the Suwannee River in Northern Florida. If the energy companies get their way, beneath that same dirt will be a 36-inch pipe – a small piece of the $3.2 billion Sabal Trail pipeline that’s meant to transport more than 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day from the Marcellus Shale. Plans call for the Sabal Trail pipeline to tunnel under pristine forests, wetlands, ranches and several bodies of water, including the Withlacoochee, Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers that teem with wildlife. The pipeline will also sits above the Florida aquifer, the primary drinking water source for people living in the upper half of Florida and southern Georgia. Gee what could go wrong?

Of course, reps from the energy companies say the pipeline will bring affordable natural gas and provide an economic stimulus in the form of increased tax revenue and local jobs. But environmental advocates and Water Protectors say Sabal Trail could potentially jeopardize the source of clean water for millions and threaten Florida’s natural environment.

Because of Standing Rock, interest in the Sabal Trail pipeline has peaked though the fight against the pipeline began several years ago.

Unfortunately the outcry may be too late as the projects is scheduled to be completed by June 2017.

“On the day that this pipeline is built – because it’s gonna be built – I want to be able to say that I was here to say I don’t stand for it,” says resident Beverly Soulshine. “They will literally cut us out to build this pipeline. I don’t know why I’m here other than to say, ‘I care,’ and connect with people who also care. We’re fighting for it now, but if we can’t succeed, what’s going to happen for the future, for the children?”

Environmentalists in Georgia and Florida say they’ve been fighting for years to get someone – the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, state departments of environmental protection, state legislators – to halt Sabal Trail and revoke its permits. Advocates who were hoping the increasing demonstrations would cause an intervention were disheartened after President Donald Trump superseded the Army Corps of Engineers’ December decision to halt DAPL construction and revived the Keystone XL pipeline then-President Barack Obama vetoed in 2015. But these homegrown activists won’t stop fighting until the underground pipeline is turned on, and even then, they’ll be there protesting until someone turns it off.

Demonstrations like this put the companies on notice. It creates the space for the potential to stop the project. A judge could pull the plug on the project and send them back to the drawing board based on the environmental impact statement. But in order for a judge to feel like really there’s the need to do that, it needs to be in the spotlight. If you don’t fight it at all, you don’t win.

 “It doesn’t matter if you’re losing because you’re playing to win your reputation and to live to fight another day,” organizer Panagioti Tsolkas says. “The pathway to victory is exceedingly narrow, but we’re not quitters. It’s not over until it’s over.”

More demonstrations are planned and the fight goes on.

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