Why a protest camp in Florida is being “ve called the” next Standing Stone

At first glance the quiet town of Live Oak seems an unlikely venue for a stand against Big Energy. But in recent weeks its become a centre of opposition

A north Florida river that attracted the states first tourists a century before Walt Disneys famous cartoon mouse is emerging at the centre of a fight against a contentious 515 -mile natural gas pipeline that many are calling Americas next Standing Rock.

One section of the so-called Sabal Trail pipeline is being laid beneath the crystal waters of the Suwannee river, whose pure mineral springs were once fabled to remedy anything from marital discord to gout.

Today, the abandoned stone bathhouse at Suwannee springs is a disintegrating ruining, and the four hotels that once stood here, the last of which burned down in 1925, are long consigned to history.

The Suwannee river itself though is currently a scene of ongoing conflict amid the opposition to a $3.2 bn pipeline designed to carry a billion cubic feet of natural gas daily through Alabama and Georgia to power plants in Florida upon its scheduled completion later this year.

At first glance, the quiet township of Live Oak, with a population of fewer than 7,000, seems an unlikely venue for such a stand against big energy. But in recent weeks a sizeable woodland protest camp has grown on the banks of the Suwannee and a number of non-violent direct any steps had taken place, including one last week that temporarily halted building and resulted in eight arrests.

Opponents say the building of the pipeline is harming not only the natural beauty of places such as the Suwannee, but irreversibly damaging sensitive environmental and culturally important areas in all three nations, and threatening the supplying of clean drinking water for millions.

This is our land and our water , not theirs, says John Quarterman, president of the WWALS Watershed Coalition that advocates for the conservation of five rivers in Georgia and Florida, including the Suwannee. We cant just sit here and let them come through here. We have to do something about it.

In these parts of northern Florida, as in much of the rest of the nation, the karst bedrock being drilled for the pipeline is a fragile and porous limestone.

Campaigners say that drilling has already resulted in sinkholes forming at several sites, and claim to have evidence of inadequate construction practises, including photograph from the air appearing to show the leaking of drilling mud into Georgias Withlacoochee river from a frac-out.

The consortium of companies behind the project, Spectra Energy of Houston, NextEra Energy of Juno Beach( the mother company of Florida Power and Light) and Duke Energy of Charlotte, North Carolina, insist that stringent safety measures are in place and that security threats to the environment is minimal. Drilling the pipeline, they say, makes a much smaller construction footprint than roads, railroads and water mains.

But adversaries claim Spectra including with regard to has had issues around its safety record, pointing to an explosion caused by a rupture of a natural gas pipeline across the Arkansas river in 2015; a pipeline detonation near its Nig creek compressor station in British Colombia in 2012 and documented regulatory fines of more than $650,000 for various environmental violations since 2010. Not least of the campaigners frets is the possible threat to the underground Floridan aquifer system that offer drinking water for about 10 million people, according to the US Geological Survey.

Environmental impact analyzes and an independent hydro-geological report commissioned respectively by the Sierra Club of Florida and a Native American clan leader warning against health risks of catastrophic breakdown of parts of the cave system essential to the free flowing and purity of water through the aquifer.

Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, the entity set up by the three energy companies to run the project, says campaigners anxieties are unfounded. Sabal Trail will not significantly impact karst terrain, springtimes or the Floridan aquifer with its construction or operations, Andrea Grover, the companys director of stakeholder outreach, wrote in written statements to the Guardian.

The pipeline, she said, was needed to upgrade Floridas fully or near-fully subscribed natural gas transmitting infrastructure and its road and building techniques were determined, after a lengthy consultation period, to avoid, minimize or mitigate impacts.

Protesting the pipeline at Live Oak, Florida. Photograph: Richard Luscombe for the Guardian

There were communications, commentary periods, face-to-face and public meetings with landowners, community members and public officials, she said, adding that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission( FERC) and other pertinent federal and country environmental permitting agencies conducted regular inspections.

A massive social information campaign on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #StopSabalTrail has been set up to complement protest attempts on the ground, and organisers say a light is being shone in dark corners of the project that are normally had an opportunity to escaped scrutiny.

Until now these companies got away with it because they tucked it in these tiny Suwannee places like this and didnt tell anyone, says Josh Michener of Twin Falls, Idaho, one of several residents of the Sacred Water campsite who expended weeks in the autumn protesting at Standing Rock.

But the technology, the awareness, attains it much easier for people to know whats going on. You can say its futile, this is a pointless place to be, just a bunch of hippies in the timbers. But its not just about Florida. You can find a majestic point anywhere in the world and say its worth saving but its really the fight against these companies. Thats what constructs it universal.

There are other parallels to the campaign that halted the Dakota Access pipeline( DAPL) in December, particularly the involvement of the native American community. Last week the Seminole Tribe of North Florida said it was opening four heartland protest camps along the pipelines planned road in Levy Countys Goethe Forest and in the towns of Bronson, Williston and Dunnellon, where the tube will lie less than 3,000 ft from a high school.

The tribe is promoting campers to act as water protectors, to observe construction and document and report any violations they witness.

Although the pipeline does not cross Native American reservations, as DAPL did in North Dakota, Floridas indigenous tribes lament the impact on lands it sees as culturally sensitive, like those around Fort Drum creek in central Florida with histories dating back to the Seminole wars of the 1800 s.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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