Greenpeace Settles State Charges for Houston Ship Channel Protest

Protesters hang over the Houston Ship Channel, Sept. 12, 2019 (Image copyright Greenpeace)

Published Nov 9, 2021 11:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Greenpeace protesters who suspended themselves from Houston's Fred Hartman Bridge in order to block the Houston Ship Channel have agreed to settle state criminal charges against them, paying the full financial cost of the emergency response to the event.

On September 12, 2019, activists rappelled down from the rail of the bridge in order to block the passage of tankers on the nation's busiest petroleum thoroughfare. They had hoped to stay for 24 hours, all the way through the Democratic presidential debate held in Houston that night. However, the local sheriff's department intervened, lowering down deputies from the bridge deck to arrest the protesters in midair.

Using the state's newly-enacted Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which had just entered into effect 11 days earlier, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office attempted to indict 31 protesters on felony charges of "disrupting critical energy infrastructure." A grand jury turned down all 31 felony indictments, but allowed 25 misdemeanor charges of obstruction of a roadway to proceed to a trial. 

Those misdemeanor indictments were all resolved last week through a negotiated settlement, and the charges will be dismissed within six months. The protesters have agreed to pay $250 each in court costs, and Greenpeace will reimburse local first responders about $58,000 for the cost of making the arrests.

22 of the activists still face federal charges of obstruction of navigable waters. Talks on settling those charges are under way, Greenpeace told Reuters.