December 8, 2023

We haven’t heard a lot about this recently and that’s partly because opponents of the police training center have been waiting and hoping their appeal of a construction permit would bring the project to a halt. But the zoning board held a meeting yesterday and unanimously rejected their appeal.

The zoning board in DeKalb County denied an appeal against the building permit for the future Atlanta police training center on Wednesday. The training center has faced a long-running protest movement by opponents that refer to it as “Cop City.”

The vote, which will allow full construction on the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center to proceed, was unanimous…

The appeal argued that the land disturbance permit, which would allow construction to begin after finalizing the building site, should not have been issued. It cites “sediment discharges from the site during clearing, grading and construction” that would “exceed the numeric waste load allocation for Intrenchment Creek in violation of state and federal law.”

So this argument was primarily about sediment that would potentially wash into a creek. Those looking to stop construction by overturning the permit argued that the creek was already at capacity according to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). But that determination came from a study of the area, not a statue.

Opponents of the appeal pointed out that EPD had approved the permit for the police training site and that it wasn’t up to the zoning board of DeKalb County to determine that the state’s Environmental Protection Division had reached a decision in error. The zoning board was only responsible for determining if their subsequent decision to grant the construction permit (based in part on the EPD’s decision) was in error. And on that point, the zoning board was in agreement that they’d done their due dilligence.

Several members of the board shared personal reservations about the location of the “Cop City” site, but ultimately the DeKalb ZBA voted unanimously to reject the appeal.

They said there were no clear violations of law and decided that the planning commission had done their due diligence by checking with EPD twice before issuing the Land Disturbance Permit.

So this is a big loss for the group that wants to prevent this facility from ever being built. The so-called “forest defenders” have already been moved out of the area by police and construction crews have already moved in. In fact, opponents claim the clearing of trees has already started.

Forest Defenders tell Truthout the forest is now effectively cleared of protesters after a law enforcement raid following a March 24 executive order closing the park to the public. Police arrested at least one person during the March 27 raid, which follows several other raids targeting the forest, including the January raid that resulted in the police-perpetrated killing of Tortuguita.

Forest Defenders said police destroyed a memorial to Tortuguita they had built in the parking lot of the Weelaunee People’s Park during the most recent raid. They also reported that Atlanta police and project contractors began to cut trees at the proposed site on March 31 to begin the construction process…

“We know they are clear-cutting every single night, every single day. They think that by itself will stifle the movement,” Atlanta-based Forest Defender “Saturn,” who requested a pseudonym due to heavy police repression, told Truthout. “They have 40 to 50 police officers surrounding the site at all times, and they’re clearing as fast as possible.”

Here’s a drone video of the area.

The Forest Defenders aren’t really commenting on the loss other than to say they are planning to take the fight national and continue to target the funders of the site. They’ve been doing that for months already so it’s hard to see why they’d have a breakthrough now that the construction is actually getting started.

My own prediction is that we’re likely to see more of the vandalism we saw last month during the week of action, i.e. people burning construction equipment and offices in an effort to stop progress.

This whole effort has followed the same sequence of events as previous efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline several years ago. In that case too there was a lone protester who fired a gun at police when they tried to arrest her. Luckily for her she wasn’t shot but she did go to prison. And in that case there were also two pipeline saboteurs who later confessed. It took years before they were charged but they eventually were sentenced to eight years and six years respectively.

So I would not be surprised to see something similar happen in this case. Having seemingly exhausted their chances to block construction legally, some of these anarchists will now try to block it extra-legally. In fact, Truthout published a story last week arguing that “Sabotaging Oil and Gas Infrastructure Is an Act of Climate Heroism.” That piece doesn’t specifically expand sabotage heroism to the efforts to “stop cop city” but as we’ve already seen, there are at least some “forest defenders” who don’t see any difference.

Again, it’s a prediction based on similarities to past behavior not a certainty, but I really do think more of this will happen. And if it doesn’t then “cop city” should be completed sometime next year.