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Tribe: The 'Audacity' of Mega-Loads

'I'm appalled at Omega Morgan's lack of respect for the Nez Perce people, for a nationally treasured river corridor'

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UPDATE: Aug. 10, 2013

The controversial mega-load which had a tumultuous week inching across U.S. Highway 12—running into a series of protests and an eventual lawsuit—is now in Montana and heading north to the Athabasca Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada. Officials with Omega Morgan, the contracted hauler, say they expect the oversized shipment to arrive at the Canadian border by Friday, Aug. 16.

The mega-load will roll across the Continental Divide on Montana's Highway 200, before moving north on U.S. Highway 87, heading to Canada's Port of Sweetgrass. The shipment will only travel at night.

Meanwhile, a hearing is expected to occur sometime next week at the U.S. courthouse in Boise. That's where Idaho Rivers United and the Nez Perce Tribe will again challenge the U.S. Forest Service to exercise some authority and stop future mega-load shipments until it conducts a thorough review of the shipments' impact on the Wild and Scenic Corridor which includes a stretch of U.S. Highway 12.

The suit is asking a federal judge to issue a restraining order halting Omega Morgan's next mega-load, which is currently sitting near the Port of Wilma, Wash., waiting to cross into Idaho. Omega Morgan said it intends to move as many as 10 mega-loads across U.S. Highway 12.

Earlier this year, U.S. Judge B. Lynn Winmill told the U.S. Forest Service that it had the authority and responsibility to review the mega-loads. That same conversation is expected to be revived in the coming days.

UPDATE: Aug. 9, 2013

A controversial mega-load shipment crossed the Idaho-Montana state line, just before 8 a.m. Pacific Daylight SavingTime this morning, following four days and nights of protests and one more thing: notice of a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court to make sure it doesn't happen again anytime soon. Idaho Rivers United filed the suit, along with the Nez Perce Tribe, which has pushed back against the oversized shipments rolling through tribal lands and the Clearwater-Lochsa Wild and Scenic River Corridor.

"We filed the suit last night, 10 p.m. Mountain Time," Kevin Lewis, IRU conservation director, told Boise Weekly. "We're suing the U.S. Forest Service on multiple issues and, yes, we gave a copy of that suit late last night to the driver working for Omega Morgan."

Omega Morgan is the Oregon-based hauler contracted to haul massive pieces of equipment across Idaho, into Montana and up to the Tar Sands Oil Project in Alberta, Canada.

"Quite simply, we're trying to clarify the U.S. Forest Service's statement that while they agree they have the authority to regulate these loads on the Wild and Scenic Corridor, they're unclear about how they can do that," Lewis said.

The U.S. Forest Service was told earlier this year by a U.S. District Court judge that it indeed had the responsibility to oversee the protection of the corridor, which includes the portion of U.S. Highway 12 that Omega Morgan is using to haul the mega-loads.

"Unfortunately, it looks like we have to go back into that courtroom to show the U.S. Forest Service that they can back up that authority," Lewis told BW. "I suspect there may be a hearing as early as next week."

And Lewis said that hearing can't come soon enough.

"As you know, there's a second load, just waiting at the Port of Lewiston, poised to travel across U.S. 12," said Lewis. "And Omega Morgan has said they have as many as 10 mega-loads to move."

Meanwhile, the Nez Perce Tribe, which has protested the mega-load movements every night this past week, said in a statement that it had "exhausted its avenues of diplomacy and outreach, but received no redress."

"The tribe is frustrated we have to take action in court to stop something that a court has previously ordered the Forest Service to actively regulate," said Nez Perce Executive Committee Chairman Silas Whitman. "But we feel we have been left with no other option."

Approximately 75 protesters met the mega-load overnight and early this morning near Milepost 120 of U.S. 12. That's where Omega Morgan needed to unhitch the mega-load from its rig and instead use a pull-cable to tug the shipment across Fish Creek Bridge. The bridge crossing took approximately 40 minutes and traffic was blocked for nearly 90 minutes during the staging and crossing.

You can read the full joint lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boise, here:
IRU_NPT_Complaint.pdf

UPDATE: Aug. 8, 2013

More than 100 protesters, including members of the Nez Perce Tribe, were out in the pre-dawn hours near Orofino today to greet a massive oil equipment rig inching across U.S. Highway 12 in north central Idaho. Witnesses said the protesters did their best to hold their ground until the Idaho State Police approached on foot, shouting, "Get off the road."

With police vehicles in the lead and more State Police vehicles in the rear to hold back as many as 40 vehicles behind the mega-load, the massive shipment continued to roll across U.S. 12. The mega-load continued until just before dawn, where it was parked near Milepost 90, 16 miles into the Wild and Scenic Corridor.

"This is a sad day for Idaho," said Idaho Rivers United Executive Director Bill Sedivy. "The Nez Perce Tribe has done an excellent job protesting this load's shipment across the reservation, and now the load has entered public land and the Wild and Scenic River Corridor. This is a clear violation of the U.S. Forest Service's order denying shipment across public land. We are consulting with our attorneys ... and plan to proceed to protect the tribe's homeland and our Wild and Scenic Rivers."

UPDATE: Aug. 7, 2013

One day after 20 people, including eight members of the Nez Perce Tribe were arrested for attempting to blockade a mega-load shipment from crossing into tribal land, law enforcement arrested two more people early this morning as the mega-load continued to inch across U.S. Highway 12 in north central Idaho.

At one point, a witness said the giant shipment—being hauled by Oregon-based Omega Morgan across Idaho and into Montana before heading north to the Tar Sands Project in Alberta, Canada—was moving "slower than people could walk."

At one point early today, protesters tossed rocks into the road in front of the mega-load, but law enforcement and Omega Morgan crews quickly removed the rocks before the shipment approached. More than 100 protesters stood alongside U.S. 12 this morning, causing a two hour-plus delay. As many as 40 law enforcement officers responded to the scene.

Initially, Omega Morgan had hoped to move the first of ten mega-loads to the Montana state line by Aug. 8, but it will now be Aug. 9 at the earliest when the rig reaches the state line.

A permit granted to Omega Morgan from the Idaho Transportation Department allows the hauler to move the mega-load, which regularly blocks two lanes of traffic through the winding Wild and Scenic Corridor, only at night, usually wrapping for the day before sunrise.

ORIGINAL STORY:

It was a bit like going to two parents with differing opinions: "Sure, you can go," versus, "I said no." In spite of the United States government (parent No. 1) telling Omega Morgan that it couldn't go out at night, the Oregon-based Omega chose instead to listen to the state of Idaho (parent No. 2), which said, "No problem, you can go and have a good time."

But hauling mega-loads along a winding canyon road in the middle of the night is not child's play. In fact, U.S. Highway 12, in North-Central Idaho, is so narrow that traffic needs to come to a standstill when dragging a massive shipment along the thoroughfare, which is part of the Wild and Scenic Corridor.

But it was a traffic stop of the human variety that halted a mega-load in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Aug. 6. Saying they were "shocked at the audacity" of Omega Morgan's disregard of the U.S. Forest Service's disapproval, Nez Perce Tribal leaders attempted to create a human barricade to stop the mega-load. But Idaho State Police and Nez Perce County Sheriff's deputies created a barrier of their own to keep protesters away from the oversized shipment.

"I'm appalled at Omega Morgan's lack of respect for the Nez Perce people, for a nationally treasured river corridor and for the authority of the U.S. Forest Service," said Idaho Rivers United's Kevin Lewis.

megaload_august_2.jpg

As Boise Weekly was going to press, the mega-load was still inching its way across U.S. 12 and was expected to hit the Montana border on Thursday, Aug. 8, before heading north to the Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada.

But the latest melodrama was only a prelude to what lies on the horizon. Just up the road, Omega Morgan has already prepped another mega-load for a trip across U.S. 12 within the next week. The company has indicated that it has at least eight more mega-loads set to roll sooner than later.

Meanwhile, the Nez Perce Tribe continued to challenge the Forest Service to use "all legal avenues" to stop the pending shipments, and said it would not prevent its tribal members from trying to block any of the mega-loads in the future.