On December 10, I went with Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson of the Sierra Club and reporters from NPR and the Tallahassee Democrat, as well as a local Gainesville writer, a student, and several local concerned Florida residents to see a recently completed HDD (horizontal directional drilling) site, three other pipeline construction areas in progress, and two sacred water camps. We visited both Gilchrist and Suwannee counties. The Protect Our Springs Caravan was organized by Karrie Ford. However, she was not permitted to visit the first site we went to, since she was arrested there as part of a protest a month ago.
As you can see, though the work is done, sheriffs are still present to protect the equipment as long as it is on site. We surmised that the pipes were extra ones that will be used in another location. When we arrived, we stopped and Merrillee told the officer that we were just there on an informational tour with reporters and a few citizens to show them what a site looks like. She stressed it was not a protest or an action and that we would just be taking photographs. They told us that we could not park on the dirt road, according to some Florida statute. We respected their wishes and drove on to one of the Sacred Water Camps, the Water is Life Camp, which recently opened to protect the Santa Fe River.
Across the street from the Camp is the Santa Fe River. This is the view from Cindy, the owner of the property's, deck. You can see the karst bank.
This is the view in the other direction. The majority of the roots of this tree were exposed and the bank is clearly unstable. Cindy is very worried about what the effects of putting the pipeline 1-1/2 miles from here will be on the river, especially since her three dogs frequently go in the water. One thing I always point out is that animals drink the water unfiltered. They are at even greater risk than we are from toxins that enter the waterways.
Cindy and her husband Mike also own the property where the encampment is located across the street from their house. She was also one of the 14 arrested in a pipeline protest a month ago. She was holding a sign on the road.
Cindy Noel by Her Front Gate
On the way back from the Water is Life Camp, we decided to let the passengers in our caravan, including the journalists and myself out of the car so we could walk and photograph while the drivers proceeded slowly along the road. The plan was to reunite just past the site and drive on our way. When we got there, the police were not present as they had been called away to another incident. We stuck to our drive/walk plan and of course did not trespass.
It is understandably illegal to walk on one of these sites and we had no intention of trespassing and committing a felony. It actually turned out the Sheriffs were far more problematic than the possible bears and snakes, and our only worry concerning endangered gopher tortoises was that their habitat had been destroyed.
The officers came racing up the road towards us when they realized we were back. KC was stopped and asked to display her driver's license. When she asked what she had done, she was ordered out of her car and they promptly arrested her.
After handcuffing KC, two officers led her to their patrol car. As the arresting officer (on the right) was leaving, he was heard to say that Ms. Cavanaugh refused to obey his orders and obstructed him from his duties.
Afterwards, we went to another pipeline construction site to regroup and figure out what to do next. This was a private road, so we were allowed to park there. As we were driving there, we'd seen a sheriff's car go down a different dirt road. Soon we saw the patrol car below driving down the pipeline corridor. The scrutiny we were under as reporters obeying the law was mind boggling.
We decided to go to the jail to see if we could help KC in any way and to find out when the hearing would be. Along the way, we passed a compressor station. These stations are highly flammable and prone to explosion, as well as often being quite loud. Suddenly finding one of those near where you live is not good for property values or peace of mind. The pipeline company does not have to divulge where all of these will be. These pipelines are necessary for the transportation of natural gas from one location to another in order to keep the gas pressurized. This one is a relatively small one. Many are much larger.
The flammable nature of these plants is conveyed by these signs. I wondered if I was supposed to be relieved to learn that I could call collect in an emergency. Would I even want to get that close to the sign to learn this and read the number?
We did stop by the Sheriff's Office and jail in Gilchrist County and were told that once an arrest was made, it could not be undone without appearing at a hearing. We all felt terrible for KC. This was not at all how we thought the day would end up. We decided to go up to the Sacred Water Camp to talk with the people staying there. We also wanted to find out about the veteran who had been arrested for jay walking in Live Oak. He was released fairly quickly, since his charge was only a misdemeanor.
The site was in Suwannee County on the way to the camp. You can see the wide swath that is cleared for the pipeline.
More people are coming to the Sacred Water Camp and it is expected that more will arrive now that the Standing Rock Sioux has asked no more people to come up there given the wintry conditions. It felt good to regroup here near the sacred fire and the resurrection fern on the oak tree. Resurrection ferns shrivel up in dry periods and we had been in a drought for a few weeks. Recently it rained and the ferns were still plump and green. Whenever I see them, I feel hopeful. Below is an image of a traditional tepee that was recently put up.
It was getting dark and we did not have too much time to spend there. However, I did meet a few of the new visitors who'd arrived. Barbara, the woman playing the flute, is from Woodstock, New York. Willow Moon, a Native American, is from Illinois and is related to the Gaskins who owned a lot of land in North Florida, which is why she came back to protect the water. I wonder how many more from around the country will come to protect our springs and rivers.