On Saturday, May 17, the Peoples Platform hosted a day of music and speakers while kayaks swarmed the Polar Pioneer.
On Saturday, May 17, the People's Platform hosted a day of music and speakers while kayaks swarmed the Polar Pioneer. Courtesy of Kelly Mears

The same day that hundreds of kayaktivists set out from Seacrest Park to surround the Polar Pioneer, the Arctic drilling rig moored in Terminal 5, John Sellers's 4,000-square-foot "Solar Pioneer" marine barge went live.

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Three weeks ago, Sellers, a renowned activist and former director of the Ruckus Society, came up with the idea. He rented a marine barge for $25,000 from a tugboat captain and enlisted volunteers from all over the arts and activist community, raising nearly $24,000 for the platform on Indiegogo. The Solar Pioneer, aka the People's Platform, has three solar arrays and a 700-square-foot movie screen, which is used to screen films like Sweet Crude, a documentary about resistance to Shell's activities in the Niger Delta.

During Saturday's protest action, Sellers let activists board the barge for the day, but he and his crew plan to keep it in Elliott Bay for as long as Shell is there, too. Getting the barge ready happened fast. "It's been a super short process," Sellers said. "My mom died in the middle of it three weeks ago, so I didn't think it was going to happen at all.

"But I took a week to hang out with my family, and mourn my mom, and I wanted to throw myself into something," Sellers continued. "So I just went hell for leather to make it happen. And everyone, every friend I had, jumped in to make it happen. It's really an amazing community achievement having it out there right now, and there's 550-some people who have funded it right now. It's really touched a nerve for people.”

But the People's Platform has run into a few problems, some more serious than others. Last night, the US Coast Guard boarded the barge, found a number of safety violations, and asked the eight people on board, including Sellers and his 10-year-old twins, to vacate until they were resolved. (Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers said Sellers and his team will have to fulfill additional safety requirements if they allow more than 12 people to stay on the barge.)

Mooers said the inspection was prompted by a former Coast Guard inspector, now a graduate student at the University of Washington, who read an article in the Seattle Times that suggested an inspection might be necessary. Once Coast Guard investigators boarded the People's Platform, they found that the barge lacked a fire extinguisher, navigation lights for operating at night, and a sound-producing device.

Mooers said resolving the issues should be fairly simple, and Sellers said he thinks his crew will be back on board by the afternoon.

That said, the People's Platform may have unwittingly created another, more serious issue when the vessel anchored. According to Koos du Preez, president of GUE Seattle (a local diving nonprofit devoted to conservation and research), the barge dropped concrete mooring blocks into a zone reserved for diving in Alki Seacrest Park while divers were in the water.

In an e-mail, Du Preez expressed concern about the safety of the divers, but also added this:

"Thousands of divers annually visit Alki Seacrest Park (also known affectionately as 'Alki Cove 2') which harbors an unusual abundance of underwater wildlife native to the Pacific Northwest. This is one of the best-protected underwater parks in the area, ideal for beginners and experienced alike. The park is a demarcated no-fishing zone. The park was also recently deemed an octopus harvesting exclusion zone by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) because of the much-hyped 'octopus harvesting' incident."

Du Preez said his divers will see if anything has been damaged in Cove 2 later today.

Kelly Mears, a crew member of the People's Platform, said the idea that the barge may have disrupted something below the surface was personally upsetting. "The reason we chose to anchor where we did is that NOAA maps indicate it as a 'general anchorage area,'" she wrote by e-mail. "We also cleared this site with the Coast Guard."

"We certainly did not intend to damage any ecological systems in the process of anchoring," Mears added. "It makes me kind of ill to hear that we may have, despite what I consider due diligence."