Getting arrested for what she believes in is something that’s way past Sandy Lyon’s comfort zone.
Lyon, a Days Creek rancher, joined a sit-in at Gov. Kate Brown’s office last Thursday in Salem after a rally against the Jordan Cove Energy Project.
The protesters hoped to persuade Brown to take a stand against the pipeline.
At 9 p.m., about nine hours after the sit-in began, the original 85 sit-in participants had whittled down to only 21. Lyon was still among them. When they refused to leave, she and the others were arrested by Oregon State Police and charged with second-degree criminal trespass.
Until last week, Lyon said, the worst trouble she’d ever been in was getting a traffic ticket.
“This whole thing was intimidating for me. I’m a little rancher that hangs out in Days Creek, you know?” she said. “Talking to the governor is not my daily spiel. But there were a lot of people there like me, and we all came together and supported each other.”
Lyon has for 29 years ranched a piece of property that’s directly in the pipeline’s proposed path. She and 90 other landowners flatly refuse to sell easements to developer Pembina to run the pipeline across their properties. If the project is approved by the federal government, the company could use eminent domain to force the pipeline across Lyon’s land.
It’s land the family loves, and a home Lyon believes would be in the blast zone if the pipeline were to explode.
Lyon’s family has also voluntarily worked to restore coho salmon habitat on the ranch, work that she said would be destroyed if the pipeline goes through it. When they found that coho weren’t spawning in the very cold Fate Creek that runs through the property, they got a culvert removed on Days Creek Road and replaced with one the salmon could get by. They fenced their cattle out of the creeks, planted trees and retrofitted a 14-foot irrigation diversion dam and a smaller 8-foot dam so that salmon could get through.
It worked, and the salmon are now spawning. But the pipeline construction would involve pulling out pools where fry are growing and structures where the fish can hide, Lyon said.
“It just breaks my heart that they’re proposing to go right through our restoration project as well as our pasture and taking our pasture as a staging area,” she said. “I wanted someone to hear, and I thought the governor had environmental concerns and maybe she would listen.”
After a long wait, the governor did address the protesters by phone. Finally, she traveled from another appointment in Eugene to speak with them.
Lyon said she thanked the governor and told her story.
But while the governor listened, she didn’t tell the protesters what they wanted to hear, so they stayed until they were removed by police.
Southern Oregon Rising Tide, one of the groups organizing the protest, posted a video of the sit-in on Facebook. In it, an Oregon State Police trooper can be seen addressing the sit-in participants shortly before they were arrested.
“I think you have made your point,” the trooper said. “The governor of our state drove back from an hour away to address you, to hear your pleas. Every news station is covering your story.”
The officer said he respected the protesters’ opinions.
“I hope you respect mine that we have to close the Capitol. We have to lock the doors and we have to let the cleaning crews come in here and do their work,” he said. The Capitol Building ordinarily closes at 5:30 p.m.
After being asked to leave and warned they would be charged with trespassing if they didn’t, the remaining protesters linked hands and began singing a song that hundreds had sung under the rotunda earlier that day: “We have got the power. It’s in the hands of us all.”
Lyon and the others were taken to the Marion County Jail. She said the women were kept in one room and the men in another, but they weren’t behind bars. It wasn’t until 5 a.m. Friday that Lyon was booked and released.
“We felt that in order to draw attention and stand by what we were asking of her, we had to go a step beyond. We said we would stay there until she made a stand on the pipeline and she didn’t take a stand, so we felt we would be yielding if we left willingly. So we stayed,” Lyon said.
Lyon said the governor seemed resistant to taking a stand.
“We want a leader who’s willing to stand with our communities across Oregon by protecting us from this project and protecting Oregon from it,” she said.