With Charlotte officials braced for protests at Duke Energys annual shareholders meeting uptown, environmental activists on Thursday staged a surprise attack miles away instead, temporarily blocking a coal train from entering a Duke Energy plant near Lake Norman.
The stunt came a day after activists scaled Bank of America Stadium to unfurl an anti-coal banner; it gave authorities yet another test for their response capabilities in the run-up to this falls Democratic National Convention.
Seven people were arrested after protesters from Greenpeace and three other organizations chained themselves to railroad tracks Thursday and blocked a train from entering Dukes Marshall Steam Station in Catawba County.
The groups said they aimed the protest at Duke Energy for its use of coal-powered plants, and at technology giant Apple. Activists said they targeted Apple because it is using Duke Energy power to expand its data center at Maiden in Catawba County.
Norfolk Southern special agents, who are sworn officers, charged each protester with one count each of misdemeanor trespassing on a railroad right-of-way and unlawful impairment of railroad operations, Norfolk Southern spokesman Robin Chapman said.
Casey Harrell of Greenpeace said the protesters chained themselves to the track at about 9 a.m. Thursday to prevent a train carrying coal from entering the plant. He said the protesters had walked the track from Sherrills Ford Road, about a half-mile west of the plant, and chained themselves before it enters the power plants property.
The group was able to stop the train from passing by, said Molly Dorozenski, a Greenpeace spokeswoman.
Dorozenski said other protesters put the Apple logo on train cars, to show the groups belief that Apple is profiting by Duke Energys use of coal.
Duke Energy said the train was not stopped on the companys property, but contended that three of those involved in the incident crossed Dukes property line.
It did not impact plant operations, spokeswoman Rita Sipe said.
Coal-fired power plants stockpile mountains of coal, often enough to last them months. Coal trains typically carry about 100 cars of fuel.
Greenpeace contends the use of coal is creating an environmental hazard, and that coal mining is damaging the Appalachian ecology.
The Marshall plant, which opened on the shores of Lake Norman in 1965, is Dukes second-largest coal-powered plant in the Carolinas. The company says it provides enough electricity to power 2 million residences.
Spokeswoman Erin Culbert noted that, after $600 million in pollution-control upgrades, Marshall is among Dukes cleanest-operating coal-fired plants.
The Charlotte City Council in January voted to give City Manager Curt Walton the power to declare extraordinary events, giving police additional powers under new city ordinances to search people and confiscate items such as chains and crowbars.
Walton declared Dukes shareholder meeting an extraordinary event, and extended the designation to four other events: the May 9 shareholders meeting for Bank of America, the Speed Street celebration, the 4th of July uptown festivities and the DNC in September.
At a demonstration outside Dukes offices on Church Street, about 30 protesters many of whom were part of the Occupy Charlotte movement chanted slogans and waved banners denouncing the energys companys use of coal.
There were no arrests and no interaction with police, who watched the protest unfold. The sidewalk in front of the Duke building was clear for anyone to pass.
One of the most controversial parts of the new city rules is a prohibition on backpacks, satchels and coolers, if police believe they are being used to hide weapons.
Michael Zytkow, a member of the Occupy Charlotte movement, brought a cooler of water bottles and a backpack to the protest, using them as props to mock the expanded police powers.
Who wants some water? he asked the crowd, before tossing a few of them, a swipe at the ordinances ban on things that can be used as projectiles.
The police didnt search his cooler or backpack.
Observer writer Bruce Henderson contributed