NAPLES — Despite biting winds, a small group of protesters held Hands Across the Sand at a Naples beach Saturday to send a message to Florida lawmakers and coastal communities statewide.
“It is important for everybody that cares about this coastline to do anything they can that they feel protects it,” said Eileen Arsenault, who came out to protest against legislation that would allow oil drilling three to 10 miles off the Florida coast. “I believe there’s so much we can do individually with conservation that would preclude us having to go to the extreme of drilling off shore for our energy.”
The eight-person rally on the beach at Lowdermilk Park in Naples was one of more than 40 Hands Across the Sand protests statewide. Other protests in Southwest Florida were at Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs, Fort Myers Beach, Bowman’s Beach on Sanibel Island and Andy Rosse Lane on Captiva.
Hands Across the Sand is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise awareness about the proposed Florida legislation to drill for oil in the state’s coastal waters. The group has organized a statewide coastal movement to protest this legislation.
“It’s the first time that Hands Across the Sand has done anything, and it’s brand new,” Dianne Rhodes, who organized the Hands Across the Sand protest at Lowdermilk, said of the small turnout. “So it’s just trying to get awareness to people, and getting the message out to people that before we really give permission for the drilling we better find out what’s going to happen when we give that permission.”
A couple of the protesters wore black to symbolize an oil spill. They held hands for about 10 minutes to create lines in the sand against oil drilling in Florida’s coastal waters.
Aside from environmental protection and the availability of alternative energy sources as reasons for their opposition, some protesters said that setting up oil rigs within view of the shoreline might pose a threat to one of Florida’s multibillion-dollar economies _ tourism.
“I just don’t think that people have moved to Naples to see oil slicks,” Arsenault said. “People do tend to move down here because the nature is still relatively intact and rich, and I think we owe it to ourselves and the next generations to protect it as best we can.”
Florida lawmakers took up the question of drilling for oil in state waters, which reach up to 10 miles from the shoreline, in the final days of the 2009 legislative session. A bill that would have allowed drilling as close as three miles to shore passed the House, but died in the Senate.
Now, a bipartisan House committee that includes state Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, is looking at options for reviving the idea.
“The first message is that we should be using less fossil fuel,” said Rhodes, who also helped establish Naples Network for Climate Action. “Since we live in the Sunshine State, the first thing we should be doing is looking at solar. We have to start looking at investing in our future.”
Rhodes — who wasn’t disappointed with the low turnout because she just decided to organize the demonstration Tuesday — wants the public to carefully consider the ramifications of offshore drilling because “once we give permission for something like that, we kind of can’t take it back.”
“The bill that’s going through has us drilling three to 10 miles from the coast, and people don’t understand that that’s not 50 miles out,” said Rhodes, who advocates alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power. “If we give permission for three to 10 miles, we’ll see these rigs. The pipelines are going to be coming right into our coast into refineries.”
In 2009, Collier County commissioners passed a resolution opposing offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico within 25 miles of the Collier County coastline and objecting to Florida House bill 1219 that would allow oil drilling as close as three miles off the Florida coast.
Commissioners argued that introducing even the slightest chance of an oil spill or pollution to Florida’s coastal waters isn’t worth risking when considering the substantial negative effect that such an event would have on beaches and coastal waters — one of the state’s most important amenities.
“I agree with the woman who was saying that we should go with the new technology and not drill in our Gulf that is so damaged already,” said Sigrid Wodtke, who wore all black to the Naples protest. “I heard many times that the amount of oil that is in the Gulf would not make an impact anyway. It’s so little in comparison to the worldwide (market).”