ENVIRONMENT

Bayou Bridge Environmental Activists: 'Anti-Protest Law Is Anti-American'

Authorities in Louisiana have arrested roughly a dozen people under a new law that gives added protection to pipeline companies.

ST. MARTIN PARISH, La. ― Since April 2017, opponents of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline have been trickling into an encampment in south Louisiana to block construction of the 163-mile crude oil pipeline, which demonstrators say will harm the region’s water supply. The self-described “water protectors” have proven successful in disrupting the building of the pipeline, but in recent weeks police upped the ante by arresting and charging activists under a controversial new law.

  • 'Critical Infrastructure' Law
    On Aug. 9, three demonstrators with the L’eau Est La Vie protest camp in Rayne were kayaking through public waters adjoining Bayou Bridge construction when they became the first in the state to be arrested on charges of “critical infrastructure” trespass. The law, which went into effect on Aug. 1, redefines pipelines as critical infrastructure. As a result, trespassing along them – a crime that previously warranted not much more than a misdemeanor citation – is a felony offense that carries up to five years imprisonment and fines up to $1,000.

    "Our water protectors were breaking no laws as they were using their kayaks in navigable public waters, a protected right in Louisiana. Moreover, corporate private security should not have the power to abduct and detain people," L'eau Est La Vie Camp wrote on Facebook.

    The three arrestees were freed after posting $10,000 bond each.
  • Reporter Arrested
    On Aug. 18, police made additional arrests on property that has been the subject of a legal dispute. The co-owners of the Atchafalaya River Basin property are suing the pipeline company for illegally seizing their land after they refused to grant the company easements to run the pipeline through the property. A judge is expected to hear that case on Nov. 27.

    “Bayou Bridge’s attempt to expropriate this land is not only a violation of the rights of the hundreds of property owners who share a stake in these precious wetlands, but it’s a grave environmental threat to this vital ecosystem,” Theda Larson Wright, one of the landowners, said in a statement, according to NOLA.com

    Among the arrestees was Karen Savage, a freelance journalist who has been covering the protests. According to Savage, she was not standing within the construction area at the time of her arrest and was there to photograph activities by demonstrators.

    "St. Martin Parish sheriff's deputies came over and said, 'You need to leave,'" Savage told HuffPost. "I said, 'I have permission' and showed them a letter from the property owner. They looked at the letter ... and said it was not good enough – that they had three affidavits saying I needed to leave. I said, 'Okay, can you show me them?' and they wouldn't show me anything."

    Savage was charged with critical infrastructure trespass and released after posting bond.
  • Water Protectors
    On Aug. 20, a water protector was tased and arrested after deputies forcibly removed her from a "skypod” – a
    On Aug. 20, a water protector was tased and arrested after deputies forcibly removed her from a "skypod” – a type of makeshift aerial blockade – intended to stop construction.

    “They tasered me on private property, which [the officer] knew because he read and confiscated the documents on-site," the demonstrator told Earth First, an environmental newsletter. 

    "Then they had me lie on my stomach in the shovel of the excavator," she said. "They wouldn’t let me bring my boots or let me get them, and I had to walk on an active construction site barefoot."
  • Bayou Bridge Pipeline
    The <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/bayou-bridge-pipeline-louisiana_n_5ba4560be4b0375f8f9b8588?ncid=engmodushpmg00000
    David Lohr/HuffPost
    The Bayou Bridge pipeline has been under construction since February. Its corporate parent, Energy Transfer Partners, will use it to carry up to 480,000 barrels of oil a day through the Atchafalaya Basin to crude oil refineries and export terminals, according to the permit application.
  • Almost Done
    Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC's attorneys&nbsp;said construction of the entire 163-mile pipeline is nearly complete.
    David Lohr/HuffPost
    Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC's attorneys said construction of the entire 163-mile pipeline is nearly complete.
  • Resistance Arrests
    Police arrested Cherri Foytlin, a co-founder of L’eau Est La Vie resistance camp, on Sept. 4 under the new law.

    "St. Martin Parish authorities overreacted and falsely arrested us on property an owner had asked us to come onto and protect," Foytlin told HuffPost. "Nobody was unpeaceful. We didn't have any weapons or anything."

    Foytlin said her group is protesting the pipeline because it threatens the region's water supply. She's advocating for renewable energy and urging the public to "look past the people who are profiting off of sickness and illness. They make money off that stuff. They're vultures."
  • Reporter Arrested, Again
    On Tuesday, sheriff's deputies arrested Savage a second time while she was taking photos at a boat launch near where demonstrators were protesting.

    "I got out of the car, took three photos and deputies came over, grabbed me and put me in cuffs and took me away," Savage said. "It was clearly an attempt to keep me from reporting and to get rid of my First Amendment rights. It was straight up harassment."
  • 'Criminalizing People'
    "These are not people that are violent," Savage told HuffPost. "They are criminalizing people who are exercising First Amendm
    "These are not people that are violent," Savage told HuffPost. "They are criminalizing people who are exercising First Amendment rights on property where they have legal permission to be."
  • 'Challenging The Law'
    To date, around a dozen demonstrators have been arrested under the new state law, according to Foytlin and local media outlet
    David Lohr/HuffPost
    To date, around a dozen demonstrators have been arrested under the new state law, according to Foytlin and local media outlets.

    Loyola Law School attorney Bill Quigley is representing the arrestees pro bono.

    "We are going to be challenging the law and the way it was used in all these arrests," Quigley wrote in a statement obtained by The Advocate. "These are all cases that would have been misdemeanors until August 1. We have to protect the right to dissent."

    Energy Transfer Partners, the St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Office and the district attorney's office did not respond to requests for comment
  • 'Anti-Protest Law Is Anti-American'
    "This anti-protest law is anti-American," Foytlin said. "What it does is put corporations above the U.S. because we have the
    David Lohr/HuffPost
    "This anti-protest law is anti-American," Foytlin said. "What it does is put corporations above the U.S. because we have the right to protest, but they're taking away that right and putting a corporation above allegiance to the country and that’s crazy. I don’t get that. It doesn’t make any sense. It's treasonous. There shouldn’t be anything above the country."

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