Five months after a protest over it led to eight arrests at Suwannee State Park, the Sabal Trail Pipeline has been turned on.

The natural gas pipeline that cuts through Suwannee and Hamilton counties on its nearly 500-mile trek from Alabama through Georgia and into Florida, began pumping gas through it June 14 according to a Sabal Trail spokesperson.

Andrea Grover, a spokesperson for the pipeline that is a joint venture between Spectra Energy Partners, NextEra Energy Inc. and Duke Energy, said in an email that the first phase of the 36-inch diameter pipeline began flowing gas two weeks ago.

Grover said that 482.4 miles of the pipeline are currently in use and includes a 30,000 horsepower compressor at the Alexander City, Ala., compressor station in Tallapoosa County where the pipeline originates. The initial phase also includes a 20,500 horsepower compressor at the Reunion station in Osceola County where the pipeline ends.

The pipeline’s first phase is supposed to provide service to Florida Power & Light to meet the start of its peak cooling season, Grover said.

Restoration and cleanup is ongoing, Grover added, while testing continues in Osceola and Citrus counties.

Grover said the first phase of the pipeline is on track for full service by the end of the month.

Sabal Trail has been a controversial topic since its inception in 2013, particularly with water and nature groups who have voiced concerns over the affect a leak could have on Florida’s aquifer.

Suwannee County was the site of numerous protests with Suwannee State Park shutting its gates after reaching capacity during a January protest near where the pipeline was crossing the Suwannee River. Two days later, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, eight protesters were arrested at the park.

On June 9, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave Sabal Trail the go-ahead to begin that first phase and less than a week later the gas was turned on.

John S. Quarterman, the Suwannee Riverkeeper with the WWALS Watershed Coalition, said at that time that the group’s battle against the pipeline would continue.

“Even with Sabal Trail, the fight is not over,” Quarterman said. “The case brought against FERC by Sierra Club, Flint Riverkeeper, and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has not been decided. Even if the gas keeps flowing, we all have to watch for sinkholes, leaks, polluted wells and explosions.”

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