Protesters over a massive Huntersville gasoline spill gathered outside the home of US Senator Thom Tillis in Lake Norman on Sunday, some willing to risk arrest while standing on his lawn.
Two young ATV riders accidentally came across the spill in the Oehler Nature Reserve in Mecklenburg County and reported the leak in August.
Colonial Pipeline Co. eventually reported that nearly 18 times more gasoline was leaking from its pipe than its initial estimate, according to a June 15 agreement with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the US Department of Transportation.
The protesters – who are part of the national Sunrise Movement focused on stopping climate change – criticized Tillis and other officials for their inaction against Colonial.
“For Thom Tillis, this is a 1.2 million gallon gasoline leak near his house,” said Jeremy Goldsby, 19, senior at UNC Charlotte. “How the hell did you let it slide?”
Earlier in the afternoon, dozens of activists and local residents gathered for training and rally at Veterans Park in downtown Huntersville before about 65 young Sunrise activists from across Carolina board a bus for the nearly 8 km ride to the house on Lake Tillis.
“This is a critical time for North Carolina and the country,” Lanvey Pham, 16, of Charlotte, said at the rally.
Protesters on the lawn of Tillis’ house
The group chanted “We are wide awake and in the streets! As they approached Tillis’ house shortly before 5 pm. Shortly after, a neighbor came out and said, “He’s on your side! to the group, but the demonstrators silenced them with their songs.
Most of the protesters stood in the street outside Tillis’ house, screaming and drumming. Two policemen stood about 50 feet from the group.
Three demonstrators went to the lawn of Tillis. Two of them held up a banner that read: “Colonial and Tillis prefer profits to people. The other protester was holding a sign saying “No climate, no deal”.
The lawn sprinklers came on about 10 minutes later. The three protesters were sprayed but sat peacefully.
The group in the street shouted “Hey Tillis! Hi Biden! Intensify. People are dying! to the rhythm of the drums.
Shortly after 6 p.m., officers notified the group if they did not leave soon, they would be arrested. Protesters on the lawn said they had no intention of leaving and expected to be arrested.
At 7:30 p.m., a large group of demonstrators left in a shuttle but not the three on the lawn.
Tillis did not appear to be home and it is not known if his family was inside.
In an email to the Observer on Sunday night, Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin said “Members of Congress have no jurisdictional regulatory authority over what is a matter of local and state regulation.” .
“The Sunrise Movement is an extremist organization trying to take control of the Democratic Party in its quest to turn America into a radical socialist country,” Keylin said in the email. “If they think Senator Tillis is somehow going to give in to their demands to support a socialist agenda like the Green New Deal, then bless their hearts.”
NC’s Worst Fuel Spill
The Huntersville spill was one of the worst in the state, said Michael Regan, then secretary of the NCDEQ, in September. Regan now heads the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Colonial could face daily fines of up to $ 200,000 per violation if it fails to improve the way it detects leaks in its U.S. pipeline system, after the massive gasoline leak in Huntersville, according to a recent settlement in the matter with the US government.
The deal directs Colonial to find and use a better leak detection system across its network, citing several recently disclosed leaks over the years, the Observer reported.