150 protesters, law enforcement face off at Big Bend plant
TAMPA - TAMPA Nearly 150 protesters converged at TECO's Big Bend power plant this afternoon and briefly blocked traffic before law enforcement arrived and allowed them to leave, according to the Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies. No one was arrested. The protest was staged by Earth First with members of Occupy Wall Street and Food Not Bombs participating. Six of the protesters chained themselves together and lay across Wyandotte Road, about a mile west of U.S. 41 off Big Bend Road, authorities said. Protesters then waved down a tanker truck and a seventh demonstrator hopped onto the tanker and chained himself to the back. "We have to pay for their environmental destruction," said Stacey Hessler, with Occupy Wall Street, referring to the coal-fired power plants. "We need to find a renewable energy source. What we are doing now is destroying our earth."We brought attention to this issue," she said, "just to take a stand and cause a little disruption." Jimmy Dunson, an activist from St. Petersburg, said: "I think its time we put planet and people before profits. What we're doing right now is destroying the earth and it's destroying ourselves. Less coal coming into the plant means less coal being burned, means less mountains being blown up." Sheriff's deputies arrived around 2:30 p.m. to find 21 trucks lined up waiting to get into the complex. The six protesters in chains were laid across the Wyandotte Road near the corner of Big Bend Road, utilizing two devices called "sleeping dragons." The method is where protesters handcuff themselves together by the wrist, with their arms inside PVC pipe. Officers are then forced to cut through the pipes to move the demonstrators.Deputies used an industrial saw to cut them loose, using shields to cover the protesters so they would not get burned by the sparks. Other protesters banged drums and supported the chained demonstrators. The group had parked two buses and several vehicles at the corner of U.S. 41 and Big Bend Road and walked the mile to Wyandotte Road. Deputies negotiated with the protesters, saying they would cut them free, and if they agreed to move back to the convenience store on U.S. 41, no one would be arrested. The protesters agreed. Everyone was freed from their chains by 5:30 p.m. and 15 minutes later, all the roads were open and trucks began moving to and from the power plant. Emmanuel Irizarry, 21, one of the truck drivers for Soil Tech in Orlando said he was part of a group of 14 Soil Tech drivers held up by the protest. "I'm just going with the flow," he said. "I'm trying to keep a positive outlook. What can you do? They can follow what they believe in, next time hopefully, they will warn us." No one was injured during the demonstration. Tampa Electric officials say plant operations were never affected. The utility has its own security staff at the station.