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Save the Itchetucknee River

Environmental Activism in Florida

by Barbara J. Walker Graham

In October 22, members of Itchetucknee Earth First! and South East Friends of Reclaiming were arrested at the gates of a polluting cement plant.

Four activists locked themselves into steel U-rings inside a trailer strategically parked athwart an entrance to Suwannee-American's cement plant, only three miles from the pristine waters of the Itchetucknee River. The protestors were supported by Witches, activists from the Environmental Action Group of the University of Florida, the Civic Media Center, and area Greens. Suwannee County Sheriff's deputies checked on the protest throughout the day.

By early evening, law enforcement officials arrived in force, and used bolt cutters to remove the U-rings from three of the locked down protestors. The fourth activist, his arm in a "sleeping dragon," posed a more difficult challenge to remove. All four protestors were arrested and charged with Trespassing After a Warning, and Resisting Arrest Without Violence. One protestor was also charged with striking a police officer. Two refused to give their real names to police for 36 hours in solidarity to the movement. All were later released from the county jail on bond.

Environmental activists from the South East Friends of Reclaiming (SEFR) have joined forces with other activist groups to bring continuing pressure to stop the proposed cement plant located only a few miles from the pristine Itchetucknee River, one of Florida's showcase rivers and home of wildlife now scarce in other parts of the state.

The cement plant controversy has been flaring since last year. Governor Jeb Bush initially denied the permit, citing the unique beauty and scenic value the river provides to Florida. Press releases from the Governor's office cited the need to conserve eco-tourism dollars, and supported keeping the Itchetucknee unsullied. Bush has since changed his mind, and the state has allowed the permit amid charges of high-level bribes. Activists aim to bring Bush's flip-flopping on this issue to national attention.

The plant will be fueled by burning tires. The hazardous chemicals released through the burning process include mercury emissions, carbon monoxide, various nitrates and other hazardous waste emitted into the air and aquifer. The batch plant is a preliminary construction, which will manufacture the cement needed to build the larger commercial-sized cement plant.

SEFR priest and activist Oliver mused, "The thing about cement plants is that through a legal loophole they do not have the kinds of regulation that waste incinerators have. We want to connect the spiritual with the political energies. We are trying to create mass action," he said. "We will be starting nonviolence trainings and action trainings for doing civil disobedience."

"This is a hopeful issue. Cement making is not a deeply-ingrained industry here," said SEFR priestess Suzanne. "We feel like we have a chance. Our long-term goal is to make it illegal for burning tires or hazardous waste as fuel. We want to bring in every angle — legal, civil disobedience, public outreach, demonstrations, banner drops, awareness raising."

"Spiritually, we have gone out on the river and done healing work, sending loving energy to the waters," Suzanne said. "Just appreciating the river and the wildlife and the beauty and sending as much love to the river as possible. During the drought we did magical work for bringing the rains to replenish the aquifer."

Environmentally-sensitive people of Florida are united in one voice in their efforts to protect the Itchetucknee from the cement plant. The Mayor of Fort White has sought redress from Governor Jeb Bush to stop the cement plant. The Sierra Club and the Alachua County Commission are suing Suwannee-America/Anderson-Columbia to stop the cement plant.

To get involved in efforts to save the Itchetucknee River, contact South East Friends of Reclaiming, (352) 375-3729, or Suzanne Morris at

Barbara J. Walker-Graham is a freelance writer and single mother living in Gainesville, Florida. A journalism graduate of the University of Florida, she is manifesting a life dream of covering and photographing direct action political protests, after coming out of a long hibernation.