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Protesters claim victory in fight to stop construction of gas plant in Tacoma

Protesters of the Tacoma liquefied natural gas plant are gearing up for a major demonstration Monday bolstered by a big victory in court. A jury has acquitted two of the protesters from an earlier demonstration. (Photo: KOMO News)

TACOMA, Wash. - Protesters of the Tacoma liquefied natural gas plant are gearing up for a major demonstration Monday bolstered by a big victory in court. A jury has acquitted two of the protesters from an earlier demonstration.

Two demonstrators who occupied the construction crane on Monday believe the land here belongs to the Puyallup tribe. Demonstrators who took up positions on giant tripods Thursday believe the same.

Puyallup tribal elder Ramona Bennett said she's certain of it.

"I know damn good and well it is," said Bennett. "It's our tidelands. It's our estuary."

But, the city and port of Tacoma have long said the land belongs to the city and that's why it leased the property to Puget Sound Energy to build it's liquefied natural gas plant and giant storage tank.

And that's why police arrested Cynthia Linet and Marilyn Kimmerling at a demonstration last May for trespassing. But, a municipal court jury this week acquitted those two.

The demonstrators said they were not guilty because of the testimony of Bennett.

"I furnished them a reservation map and I showed them that's our tidelands," said Bennett.

"The jury said to me afterward that they couldn't tell whether or not this is something that happened on Puyallup tribal land or in the city of Tacoma, so they found the two not guilty," said the protester's defense attorney Blake Kremer.

The two protesters arrested after coming down from the crane this week and were arraigned in court Friday and said it was a stunning victory for their cause.

"It was a very powerful day yesterday hearing that verdict," said Carlo Voli. "We did what we did in solidarity with the Puyallup tribe because those are Puyallup traditional lands."

"That was very interesting because that was the first time that one of those tribal rights issues that a jury has said that that was their right," said Way.

Puget Sound Energy released a statement that said, "We respect the legal process. The LNG facility is not on tribal property. We are leasing the land from the port of Tacoma."

Tacoma's City Attorney's Office said, "The city is disappointed with the jury's verdict. In addition the City cannot comment on the other question as there are two more trespass cases that are currently being prosecuted and as per the usual protocol, the City of Tacoma does not comment on pending litigation."

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