Cherokee Co. deputies pepper spray pipeline protesters

Published: Nov. 19, 2012 at 5:47 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 19, 2012 at 10:57 PM CST
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CHEROKEE COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Deputies from the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office pepper-sprayed four TransCanada Keystone pipeline protesters that had stuck their arms into land-clearing machinery at a site near Wells Monday morning. They were later arrested and charged with criminal mischief and criminal trespass.

Another group of three protesters set up "tree blockades" at another site off County Road 1911 near the site of the former Goodman Bridge over Angelina River. A press release stated that the Monday's events were designed to show "solidarity with local land owners struggling to protect their water and land from TransCanada's toxic tar sands pipeline."

The three tree-sitters were arrested later Monday afternoon after they were brought down from their perches. No details were available in regard to what their charges were.

"Tar Sands Blockade stands with all communities affected by the Canadian tar sands," Ron Seifert, a Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson, said in a press release. "From indigenous nations in Alberta, Canada to the besieged refinery neighborhoods of the American Gulf Coast where the tar sands will be refined, there's a groundswell of resistance demanding an end to toxic tar sands exploitation. Today's events simply mark the latest in our sustained, community-based civil disobedience campaign, and many more communities are destined to rise up to defend their homes from TransCanada's fraud, bullying, and reckless endangerment of their lives and fresh water."

A group of at least 40 people from the Tar Sands Blockade group, including the four that allegedly chained themselves to heavy machinery used along the pipeline construction route, descended on a site off Wells' Park Cemetery Road and between the town's 6th and 7th Streets. Monday's protests are part of an ongoing effort to halt construction on the proposed pipeline from Cushing, Okla. to Nederland.

"Today, Tar Sands Blockade is acting in solidarity with groups across the country and across the world that have been rising to demonstrate resistance to the fossil fuel industry that is causing climate chaos and destroying the lives of communities," Seifert said.

The protesters that locked themselves to heavy machinery at the Park Cemetery Road site were joined by another group of protesters that formed a human chain to block the movement of other machinery at the site.

Earlier in the morning, CCSO deputies arrested a person that had been bringing water to the people reportedly locked to the heavy machinery. After they refused to budge, the four protesters with their arms in the heavy machinery were pepper-sprayed several times before they gave up, and were arrested. Several of the protesters' faces were bright red as a result of the pepper spray, and two of them were literally dragged from the site because they refused to cooperate with law enforcement officers.

"These individuals are doing nothing more than sitting in an act of civil disobedience; something that is a rich, American tradition and police are oppressing them and violating their right to protest and using some of the most harsh and non-lethal weapons that they can," Seifert said.

At the other site, near the Angelina River, protesters used a tactic they tried at a site near Sacul Oct. 31. Three protesters suspended themselves from 50-foot pine trees with lifelines anchored to pieces of heavy machinery on the ground. In addition, there were approximately 100 protesters on the ground trying to block the heavy equipment that was being brought in, so that the CCSO deputies could attempt to bring the three protesters down from the trees.

Protesters with Tar Sands Blockade chose Cherokee County as the place to make their stand against the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline route Monday. Then, what began as a family-friendly rally in Nacogdoches became a more volatile situation where the old Goodman Bridge once stood.

Monday's protest began harmless enough at a family-friendly rally at Lake Nacogdoches. The 'Ragin Grannies' sang a catchy little protest song.

They sang, "Don't mess with Texas, Canada."

But a couple of hours later, things got worse for great-grandmother Jeanette Singleton. She was pepper-sprayed as she joined a group blocking the passage of heavy equipment.

"I was in front of the truck, but I'm saying the policeman did not even give us time to get out of the way," Jordan said. "He just said, ' get out of the way,' and just started spraying."

Jordan Johnson also started her day at the Lake Nacogdoches event only to find herself going home early when she got an eyeful of pepper spray.

"I was born and raised here, and it's disappointing how our law enforcement is reacting, but I think our community should see this," Johnson said.

The two Nacodoches women were among just more than 100 people showing their support for Lizzy Alvarado, a Stephen F. Austin State University film student. Alvarado, 21, of Austin was one of three protesters that climbed 50-foot pine trees to create "tree blockades" with their lifelines attached to heavy equipment on the ground below them.

Even though Alvarado said she has never done anything like this before, she's planning to stick to her guns. She said if it means going to jail, she's willing to go.

"This is something that's very scary for me to do but having the support of these people here that are looking out for me and will protect me means the world to me," Alvarado said.

Alavardo had a right to be concerned. There was talk of cutting one of the three lines to the tree blockades. The cables shut down the work at the site but keep the tree sitters on their perches.

"Anybody could touch one of those lines and see there is quite a bit of tension under it, and that tension is the platform and the human body that's sitting 50 feet in the air," Alex Lundberg, one of the protesters said.

But deputies say the tree sitters are more at risk putting stress on drought-stricken trees, shutting down job sites, and tying up deputies' time.

"We don't have a dog in the fight as far as what's right or what's wrong," Captain John Ranfield of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said. "You know we are here to protect property and people."

After Deputies moved the protesters off the property, law enforcement officers lined the fence to keep the protester's on the road's right-of-way instead of private property.

"I climbed this tree in honor of all the landowners who have been bullied mercilessly into signing easement contracts and who were then silenced through fear by TransCanada's threat of endless litigation," Alvarado said in a press release that was issued early Monday morning. "That's not what this country stands for in my mind, and if we don't take a stand here to secure our rights now, then it will keep happening to everyone," proclaimed Alvarado. "What's happening isn't just threatening my community's drinking water but it will threaten that of all communities along the pipeline's path."

The press release stated that the proposed pipeline will cross 16 large Texas rivers, including the Angelina River, which feed into the Sam Rayburn Reservoir.

The proposed pipeline will extend pipeline capacity 485 miles from Cushing, Okla. To Nederland, according to a contractor for TransCanada that spoke to the Lufkin Host Lions Club during its weekly meeting at the Crown Colony Country Club.

Jim Prescott told Lions Club members that the proposed pipeline will traverse Angelina County from the northwest and west of Lufkin. It will then parallel the western county line and then follow U.S. Highway 59 into Polk County.

Earlier this month, actress Daryl Hannah and a 78-year-old great-grandmother were arrested for trespassing on land in Wood County that had been condemned for use as easement for the proposed pipeline. In late August, two women and five men were arrested in Polk County for trespassing on private property to protest the Keystone pipeline.

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