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The Sabal Trail pipeline is a 'done deal,' and now Central Floridians begin to realize what’s about to come through their backyards

That sinking feeling

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V. Nicholas Dancaescu, with the Orlando corporate firm GrayRobinson, says 41 of about 100 of his clients are still involved in eminent domain lawsuits with Sabal Trail. The pipeline crosses through 12 Florida counties, including Alachua, Hamilton, Suwannee, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion, Sumter, Citrus, Lake, Polk, Orange and Osceola counties. (In those last two, the pipeline comes down the Four Corners area close to Disney property and crosses Interstate 4 near the Reunion Resort Golf Course. Another proposed pipeline connects the compressor station near Reunion past Kissimmee and into the Hunter's Creek area.)

"In Florida, it's going through quite a few spaces that are virgin land," he says. "They've never had a pipeline. It's just a beautiful rural piece of property."

Dancaescu says most of the easements are across a section at the end of the property, but others cut across diagonally, creating three different pieces on the property. He adds that about 10 to 15 of his clients are in the "blast zone" of the pipeline, which aside from being dangerous could devalue a house.

"Our primary focus isn't stopping the project," Dancaescu says. "We want to make sure our clients are compensated fully and fairly. Some of them have been offered $1,600 for the easement, and when the time comes to sell the property, a buyer might want $75,000 to $100,000 off the home because of the pipeline."

The fight against Sabal Trail hasn't reached Central Florida like it has in some parts of North Florida, particularly Gainesville and Live Oak. Before the project even began drilling under the Santa Fe River, local springs that depend on the Floridan aquifer were already suffering from various issues, says Pam Smith, president of Our Santa Fe River. The water extraction required for agriculture, golf courses, development and drinking from the aquifer has reduced the amount of water going to the springs. The flow has also been depleted by pollution from nitrate-based fertilizers and septic tanks. Still, Smith says the small nonprofit did its best to make noise about the Sabal Trail pipeline before it began drilling under the river.

"We didn't have enough manpower to drum up support for the Santa Fe," she says. "We really had trouble getting traction until Standing Rock made people realize this was happening everywhere."

Three months ago, activists set up a camp on the property of an Our Santa Fe River member, where they've vowed to stay close to the pipeline.

"Have you ever been down the Santa Fe?" Smith asks. "It's beautiful. I'm looking at it right now. It speaks to me, and I need to help it get through this and live longer."

Back at the protest near the Suwannee River, the day is ending and police have detained no one so far, though some activists will be arrested later that week for another blockade. Organizer Panagioti Tsolkas remembers being one of the people arrested for blocking the project by the Santa Fe River. He says he's trying his best not to get arrested again because he doesn't want to miss the birth of his child.

Tsolkas says he's fought against other Florida developments before that were "done deals" and at the last minute have been reversed, so he's hopeful that can also happen with Sabal Trail.

"Demonstrations like this put the companies on notice," he says. "It creates the space for the potential to stop the project. A judge could pull the plug on the project and send them back to the drawing board based on the environmental impact statement. But in order for a judge to feel like really there's the need to do that, I think it needs to be in the spotlight. If we don't fight it at all, we don't win."

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