Federal Judge Sides With Mega-Load Opponents, Affirms Forest Service Authority Over U.S. 12

"I'm pleased that the court recognized that the agency has to follow federal law."

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A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. government indeed has the authority and, in fact, should have regulated mega-loads that have crawled across U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho.

The decision, handed down late Thursday by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, now clears the road for mega-load opponents to turn to the U.S. Forest Service to use its authority to protect U.S. 12, which runs through the scenic Lochsa and Clearwater rivers corridor, and possibly restrict the Idaho Transportation Department from further permitting overlegal loads to traverse the highway.

"This authority clearly gives the federal defendants jurisdiction to review ITD's approval of mega-load permits that authorize acts along the river corridor, including the construction of turnouts along the river, the trimming of hundreds of trees, and the restriction of the public's recreational opportunities," wrote Winmill in his 18-page ruling.

You can read the full story about the mega-load legal battle in this week's issue of Boise Weekly.

Laird Lucas, executive director of Advocates for the West and attorney for Idaho Rivers United, successfully argued against the federal government on Feb. 6 in Winmill's courtroom, packed with onlookers.

"This decision confirms that the Forest Service has the authority to protect the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers," said Lucas Thursday night. "I'm pleased that the court recognized that the agency has to follow federal law."

Idaho Rivers United, which turned to the U.S. Forest Service in 2010 for assistance in the matter, is optimistic about the federal agency's role in restricting mega-loads.

"The Forest Service has previously indicated its desire to protect the Wild and Scenic corridor," said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. "Now that it's been established that it has that ability and authority, we look forward to working with the agency to protect this very special place."

You can read Winmill's full decision here: mega-load_ruling_2.pdf

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