Featured Stories

Local Weather

Partly Cloudy



Partly Cloudy

Humidity: 57%

Wind: 3 mph

  • 31 Jul 2015

    Sunny 101°F 62°F

  • 1 Aug 2015

    Mostly Sunny 97°F 64°F

Police dislodge kayaktivists, Greenpeace protesters from bridge

UPDATE: Shell Oil's icebreaker squeezes past kayaks, heads toward Columbia River

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - One of the Greenpeace protesters was lowered to the Willamette River Thursday afternoon after Portland police and other law enforcement agencies moved to clear the St. Johns Bridge after a two-day attempt to block Shell Oil's icebreaker Fennica.Portland police and federal law enforcement agencies cleared Greenpeace protesters from the St. Johns Bridge Thursday afternoon, opening a path for the icebreaker Fennica to make its way toward the Pacific.

At about 5:55 p.m. Thursday, the 385-foot-long icebreaker squeezed past a flotilla of kayaks and other small vessels trying to block the ship's trip to the Arctic. Protesters on the river and lining the river bank booed and shouted as the ship slipped under the bridge. A few minutes later, they cheered the protesters who blocked the Fennica's path for two days.

Police closed the bridge to all traffic at about 2:25 p.m. July 30. Portland Fire & Rescue's high-angle rope rescue team also was dispatched to the bridge to work with police.

At about the same time, law enforcement boats, including the U.S. Coast Guard and the Clark County, Wash., sheriff's office, began moving kayakers to the banks of the Willamette River, using poles to prod some out of the shipping lanes. Several kayakers refused to budge.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A protester in a small boat was taken into custody Thursday afternoon by U.S. Coast Guard officers. Police and federal officials tried to clear the Willamette River to allow Shell Oil's icebreaker the Fennica to make its way to the Columbia River and the Pacific.The police action came about 40 hours after 13 Greenpeace protesters hung from the St. Johns Bridge to block Shell Oil’s icebreaker Fennica as it attempted to leave its berth at Swan Island. The icebreaker attempted to leave early Thursday morning, but was blocked by kayakers and Greenpeace protesters.

The icebreaker began to move into the Willamette River at about 5:45 a.m. July 30 from the dock where a 3-foot-long tear in its hull was repaired during the weekend.

The icebreaker started to move from its berth at about 5:20 p.m. and made its way slowly toward the bridge, and the protesting kayakers. Law enforcement boats and jet skis tried to hold back the protesters, but some broke through, paddling in front of the Fennica and forcing the icebreaker to stop and back up for several minutes.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said in a statement Thursday evening that he was torn by the conflict between Arctic drilling protests and public safety, but he wanted the protest to end peacefully without injuries.

“This was a hard day for me — and for a lot of people in Portland,” Hales said. “I oppose drilling in the Arctic. But it was a great day for Portland. First, we made sure everyone was safe. Everyone was committed to safety, including the protesters, our amazing first responders, the Coast Guard, and the activists. That was our first priority.

“Our second priority was free speech. It was imperative that the protesters be heard. They were, on a national and even international scale. That’s something we all believe in, here in Portland.

“And third, we enforced the law.

“Now it’s time to move from protest to action: to changing the laws. After all, that’s the point of the protest.”

Prepared for confrontation

Greenpeace protesters suspended from the bridge for a second day and dozens of kayakers in the river blocked the Fennica from leaving. Protest leaders said they were prepared to stay on the river and the bridge to prevent the icebreaker from heading to the arctic, where Shell plans to drill for oil.

“On the hottest day in Portland in two years, activists are prepared to stay as long as required,” said Nick Caleb, an attorney with Our Children’s Trust, one of the groups involved in the protest. “We are doing this for the children and for future generations to come.”

“The activists went to sleep last night prepared for this moment, and they were in incredible spirits hearing the support from local Portlanders below and from people around the world,” said Cassady Sharp, Greenpeace USA media officer in Portland.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Greenpeace protesters and others were taken into custody Thursday afternoon by U.S. Coast Guard officers as Shell Oil's icebreaker Fennica began to move from its Swan Island berth.Politicians also weighed in Thursday as the protest continued. U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Portland Democrat representing Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District, said he supported the protest because “the Arctic is the last place we should be drilling for oil, either onshore or offshore.”

“Many people are concerned about the protesters that are hanging from the St. John’s Bridge in Portland,” Blumenauer said in a Thursday morning statement. “No matter how you feel about the protests, we should all get behind their call to stop any drilling for oil in the Arctic, where federal studies estimate a 75 percent chance of at least one large oil spill during the lease.

“We have the technology to transition toward a clean energy economy. We should be investing in that goal, rather than drilling in one of the most ecologically sensitive and environmentally treasured places in the world.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Shell OIl's icebreaker the Fennica started to leave Portland's Swan Island shipyard early Thursday morning, July 30, but had to turn around because its way was blocked by 13 Greenpeace protesters suspended from the St. Johns Bridge.

'Fennica will begin its return'

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - Greenpeace activists rappel down the St. Johns Bridge to join the protest against Shell Oil. The company's ice breaker did not leave Portland Wednesday morning.Thursday was day three of the protest involving several dozen Portland "kayaktivists" trying to block the repaired Shell Oil icebreaker from leaving town. The a baker's dozen of Greenpeace activists rapelled down the St. Johns Bridge to expand the civil disobedience action Tuesday evening.

Protesters oppose Arctic oil drilling, and the Shell icebreaker, The Fennica, is needed for the company to do exploratory drilling. Protesters believe the ship is soon bound for northern waters after undergoing repairs at Portland's Swan Island ship repair facility.

"I am horrified, truly, at the idea of drilling in the Arctic," said Kelly O'Hanley, one of several dozen kayakers who entered the river together at around 3 a.m. Wednesday. "It seems like a nightmarish idea," she said.

“We are united in our outrage at Shell’s threat to all of our futures and the Obama administration’s tacit approval of drilling in the Arctic,” said Daphne Wysham of the Center for Sustainable Economy, in a Wednesday morning news release.

Groups involved in the protest include the Climate Action Coalition, 350PDX, Portland Rising Tide, Greenpeace and others, including some from Seattle who participated in earlier protests there.

Shell U.S. spokesman Curtis Smith said in a brief statement Wednesday morning that the protest would not prevent the company from exploring the arctic for oil. "The Fennica will begin its return journey to Alaska once we've completed the final preparations," Smith wrote in an email. "As for the activities of the day, we respect the choice that anyone might make to protest based on Shell’s Arctic aspirations; we just ask that they do so safely and within the boundaries of the law."

'Looked like little spiders'

Demonstrators began mobilizing at noon July 28 in North Portland’s Cathedral Park, preparing to block the Willamette River with a flotilla of kayakers, borrowing a tactic deployed recently by Seattle protesters.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Protesters on the Willamette River used kayaks to try to block Shell OIl's ice breaker that was repaired in Portland."We're hoping that the boat is delayed by a number of hours. That would be a significant victory," said Maya Jarrad, spokeswoman for 350PDX, on Tuesday evening, as kayakers were getting trained and ready to take to the water. {img:80681}"We’re looking at a before-dawn departure,” Jarrad said.

Organizers had hoped to recruit 100 to 200 kayakers to form a line across the river Tuesday night, but by 7 p.m., only 22 kayakers had signed up on sheets at a central desk indicating they wanted to take to the water. Others were still arriving, though.

Organizers said about 60 kayaktivists were in the water early Wednesday morning, July 29, when they joined by 13 climbers from Greenpeace who suspended themselves from the bridge.

At first the kayakers had no idea what was occurring up above on the bridge, O'Hanley said. "To me they looked like little spiders," she said.

Then, when it became clear it was people joining the protest, "We were thrilled," she said.

She left the river at around 6 a.m. to get some sleep, while others arrived Wednesday morning to take to the water.

The icebreaker stayed in the dry dock through the night, so the kayaktivists managed to spend one night on the water without encountering The Fennica.

The U.S. Coast Guard has been patrolling the area with 25-foot or 29-foot response boats.

"Our primary concern as the Coast Guard is safety of individuals on the water and commercial traffic through the area," said George Degener, U.S. Coast Guard petty officer and public affairs specialist, who is working out of the agency's Swan Island office.

Once Shell decides to move The Fennica out from dry dock, the Coast Guard will escort it all the way down the Columbia River to the ocean, Degener said.

"Once it is under way, there is a safety zone that will be enforced around the vessel," he said. No boaters will be allowed within 500 yards of the front of the vessel or within 100 yards of the sides or rear.

Stopping an oil leak

The Coast Guard is coordinating with the Portland Police Bureau, which is handling public safety for the St. Johns Bridge and the rapellers, as well as the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Greenpeace protesters hung from the St. Johns Bridge early Wednesday morning as part of the protest trying to block the Shell OIl ice breaker's departure.The Fennica is designed as an icebreaker and also contains safety equipment if an oil leak develops during drilling in the Arctic.

Rob Ranta of Portland was one of many kayakers preparing to take to the water Tuesday night. Ranta said he was outraged that oil drilling might "trash" the sensitive environment of the Arctic, and he worried there are no towns, Coast Guard bases or other facilities remotely near the area where Shell will drill.

"Should there be a leak or a spill of some kind, they won't be able to stop it," Ranta said.

In Seattle, protesters had several weeks' notice before a Shell vessel came through, Jarrad said. Portland protesters had only 48 hours, she said.

But the protest could gather more support as long as the standoff continues.

So far, no river traffic has been adversely affected by the protest, Degener said Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. Protesters have told authorities they only plan to obstruct The Fennica, and would allow other vessels to pass.

No other large commercial vessels are scheduled "in the near future," Degener said.

To follow the events from the protesters' perspective, check out #PDXvsShell and #ShellNo on Twitter. #PDXvsShell#ShellNo

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Wednesday morning's protest under the St. Johns Bridge was intended to block Shell Oil's ice breaker as it headed back to the Pacific. The ice breaker didn't leave Portland, however.

Reporter Kevin L. Harden contributed to this story.