In some places in Florida, the Sabal Trail pipeline construction is along existing power lines and more rural, undeveloped areas, However, as you travel south, it gets more and more developed. Here, it literally goes through someone's front yard. They are definitely in the incineration zone now. The image below is where the pipeline goes between some additional homes in Dunnellon. The company puts up party flags on all the sites, but it is definitely not a party for residents that live this close, who are also often subjected to loud noises from clearing and installation every day but Sunday and sometimes late into the night.
The image below is another construction site that goes through multiple habitats for threatened and endangered animals. There is a sign for protected gopher tortoises, another for threatened eastern indigo snakes, one Florida black bears, and another that says this is a Sherman's fox squirrels nesting area. Of course there is also the sign announcing that it is a felony to trespass on this property. Yet, it is not considered a crime at all that these creatures' habitats are being decimated.
Just to the right of the image above is a gopher tortoise crossing site (that is what the GTX stands for.) The gopher tortoise is a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and it and its burrow are protected in Florida. If there is a tortoise on any worksite, it has to be removed from the work area and fences with black plastic must be put up to keep them out. Hay bales are often used to keep the tortoises from returning to the work area, if their burrows are located directly above where the pipeline will go. However, these bales are not always used and they often leave gaps in them that gopher tortoises can easily pass through.
For the first half of my trip to Dunnellon, I traveled with Connie Castanedo Bryant, a retired nurse who lives in the area. What is happening to the wildlife and the landscape is of grave concern to her. Here she is standing in front of a new planned development. When the owners of the project purchased the land, they didn't know a pipeline would be passing through. Now, they are having to sell the lots for half what comparable sized parcels are going for in the area, if they even can sell them as the development will now be in the incineration zone.
Across the street, on the ranch land the pipeline passes through, there is an active and substantial sinkhole. I am not a geologist, but I am guessing pipelines and sinkholes are not good combinations and there are many along the pipeline route. Sinkholes are depressions in the earth that are geologically unstable. They are defined as "a cavity in the ground, especially in limestone bedrock, caused by water erosion and providing a route for surface water to disappear underground". Not only would a further deepening of a sinkhole stress the pipeline's integrity, they would be very problematic in the case of a rupture as they are direct conduits to our aquifer.
On our way to the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve we drove along Southwest 180th Road, which passes by the tube entrance to Rainbow Springs State Park and a High School and Elementary school. The pipeline goes right through this pasture and by the karst feature shown below. A substantial opening that likely functions as another conduit to the aquifer is visible beneath the trees.
Here is another image of that karst feature, this time showing a trough to provide water for animals. After the pipeline goes through, it is two years before it is safe for animals to return to graze in the corridor.
This is the site of the future pipeline crossing on the dirt road to the Pruitt Trailhead of the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve. The view is looking over the wetlands, which is why there are so many pallets. These wooden structures are supposed to reduce damage to the wetlands, although I have heard they don't always use enough since there are so many wetlands in Florida. And even when they do use them, the equipment is so cumbersome and heavy that damage still occurs.
Ranch lands are important wildlife corridors in Florida. Many species depend on these undeveloped areas to nest and rest and they also make possible the seasonal migration of animals throughout the state. This particular nesting area is used by Florida Sandhill Cranes. These birds are a threatened species and are protected under the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act. and they are also a State-designated Threatened species under Florida's Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.
Both Connie and Janet Barrow told me that every time a tree is felled, many creatures ecosystems are destroyed and animals are injured and hurt. Soon buzzards begin circling in the air. This live oak tree was cut down the day before. Connie had witnessed the destruction and videotaped it on her phone. Many people commented on her post and said it was too distressing to watch.
I went to this park twice during the day. The first time with Connie and the second time with Janet in the late afternoon. Janet and I were fortunate to be able to see these three beautiful birds forage naturally for a while. Then they strode into the pipeline corridor and became increasingly disturbed, possibly due to the destruction of their habitat, until the flew away. Watching them, I worried for their future in a State where so much environmental devastation and encroachment on important habitat and breeding grounds is continually being permitted.
This destruction is occurring because State Park and Conservation Lands are being opened up to business usages. Earlier in the day, Connie and I had walked to the trailhead. We weren't able to hike because the park was closed that day to teach at risk youth how to hunt (another story altogether). However, when we got to the locked trailhead, we noticed that Sabal Trail had their own lock to the gate.
Ironically, this sign was nearby warning of all the things you could not do there, yet the gas transmission company has their own key and they are being permitted to destructively alter the landscape in far worse ways.
Before we left the area, Janet and I visited this site and I saw this very ominous looking machine. Janet said it is the tree cutting machine and that it was used to destroy the oak the previous day. It saddened me to see the machine and the swath of destruction it had caused.
We were very fotunate to see this beautiful sunset over the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve. It seemed even more fragile to me knowing how threatened this preserve is on all sides. There were of course more signs for gopher tortoise crossings and other endangered species directly behind where I was standing.when I made this photograph. There were also hay bales with gaps between them that the tortoises easily could have escaped through. The environmental impact and footprint of this pipeline is very large and could lead to the permanent alteration of Florida's water supply, as well as the landscape.