NACOGDOCHES (KYTX) – A community coalition hosted a family-friendly community bike ride and educational event this morning to raise awareness of the dangers the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline poses on Texas communities' water and land and to support local landowners in the pipeline's path.
The groups comprising the coalition include Tar Sands Blockade, Nacogdoches County S.T.O.P. (Stop Tar sands Oil Permanently), Stephen F. Austin State University student environmental group T.E.A.M. (Texas Environmental Awareness Movement) and the Nacogdoches Rat Skulls, a local women's cycling advocacy organization.
"If constructed, Keystone XL will run only hundreds of feet away from schools in the nearby Douglass Independent School District in Nacogdoches County," said Vicki Baggett, an organizer of today's events and member of NacS.T.O.P., a grassroots organization of East Texans organizing against Keystone XL. "This pipeline would directly jeopardize students, teachers and our local communities with daily threats of a toxic spill. And yet, TransCanada's coercion and repression of landowners and concerned citizens saying ‘no' to Keystone XL in the name of our children's health and collective future has been nothing short of criminal."
Coalition members facilitated a teach-in and discussion with dozens of community members on the unique threats toxic tar sands pose to East Texas and how community members can get involved in the fight to halt the Keystone XL pipeline and all tar sands projects. Following the teach-in, coalition and community members joined together in a planned bike ride ending at the Nine Flags Christmas Festival in downtown Nacogdoches.
"Since every elected official in Texas prioritizes the oil and gas industry ahead of their own constituents' health, safety and land rights, we're left with nothing but our hands, feet and ingenuity to stop this dirty and dangerous project," said Lizzy Alvarado, a Stephen F. Austin State University student and founding member of the Nacogdoches Rat Skulls.
Alvarado was arrested for climbing a 50 ft. tree and launching an aerial blockade at a crossing of the Angelina River during last Monday's day of mass action in Nacogdoches to halt Keystone XL construction. She spoke today to the power of taking non-violent direct action and led the community bike ride. "Today, we're riding to model the alternative vision for a future powered by people and pedals—one free of the injustices wrought by tar sands exploitation."
The event also featured first-hand accounts from Tar Sands Blockade members Elizabeth Chiaravalli and Dakoda Benson from Kalamazoo, Michigan, whose communities' public health, local economy and ecosystems were threatened when Canadian pipeline operator Enbridge spilled more than a million gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in July 2010 in what would become the largest and most expensive onshore oil spill in U.S. history.
More than two years later, residents are still reeling with headaches, strange skin rashes and respiratory problems, property values in the area have plunged and large swaths of tar sands still remain on the Kalamazoo riverbed.
"I grew up swimming in a part of the Kalamazoo that flowed through my backyard. The river was literally my home," said Benson, who was also arrested during last Monday's day of mass action for locking down to heavy construction machinery. "I'm tired of profit-hungry corporations like Enbridge and TransCanada deciding when and where they can poison our people and essential resources, while also irrevocably altering the climate system we depend on for survival. The Kalamazoo tragedy should be a powerful cautionary tale for the Nacogdoches community and all in the path of Keystone XL. I'm taking action with Tar Sands Blockade to ensure that what happened in Michigan never happens anywhere else."