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Date of Issue: February 17, 2010

Protesters stand against drilling

About 200 people participate in Hands Across the Sand at Manatee Public Beach.

More than 200 protesters stood hand-in-hand Feb. 13 on Manatee Public Beach to create a 100-yard-long human line in the sand against drilling for oil or gas in state waters.

Several of the protesters stepped from the line to write their message in the sand: “No oil.”

The Holmes Beach protest was part of a statewide demonstration called Hands Across the Sand, which organizers hoped would be the largest single-day demonstration in the state’s history. Demonstrations took place at about 80 beaches from the Panhandle to the Keys.

The Manatee Public Beach protest took place without a permit or payment of a permit fee, which county officials had said was required.

The county had said protest organizers needed a permit — priced  $50 to $1,000 — depending on the number of people who turned out.

So the lead organizer in Manatee County, the Sierra Conservation Committee, decided not to seek a permit.

The protest, however, went on.

“I’m not chasing them off,” said Jay Moyles, chief of the county’s marine rescue division. He praised the demonstrators’ dedication to the cause, but criticized organizers’ failure to obey county law.

“It’s peaceful,” he said. “But they went about it the wrong way.”

Protesters began arriving shortly after noon and assembled near the water in front of the lifeguard station. Most of the demonstrators wore black — the color of crude oil. And most wore cold-weather clothing — parkas, knitted caps, gloves and mittens, boots and scarves. Temperatures that afternoon were in the low 50s and winds were estimated at 17-22 mph.

“The pictures will look like we’re protesting drilling in the Arctic,” said protester Samantha Tyler of Bradenton.

Shortly before 1:30 p.m., a protester asked people to hold hands. The demonstration was timed to simultaneously take place on beaches throughout the state.

At Manatee Public Beach, protesters occasionally shouted, “No drilling,” “Save our beaches” and “Clean water yes; big oil no.”

“I just don’t want to see Florida destroyed by oil,” said Holmes Beach resident and demonstrator Ellen Jones. “We know people who live in Texas, and they don’t have a pretty story to tell.”

“I’m here to protect our shores from drilling,” said Cat Hex of Bradenton. “I just had to come out.”

“I don’t want to see our Gulf coast become the gunk coast,” said Peter Allen, a seasonal resident of Holmes Beach. “I’m not naïve enough to think we have no pollution here now, but I know what industry can do and I don’t want to see it destroy this place.”

Allen said he has participated in a variety of demonstrations during his 60-plus years, including anti-war and no-nukes protests.

But one Hands Across the Sand demonstrator who held a sign — “No oil on beach” — was a 67-year-old rookie.

In December, Scotland native Kenny Aitchison took his first plane trip, traveling to Florida. He is spending three months on Anna Maria Island.

On Feb. 13, Aitchison participated in his first protest action.

“I’ve never done this in my life,” he said. “But I like Holmes Beach.… And I’m coming back again next winter.”