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Emails Reveal Renewed Interest in Shipping Megaloads Across North-Central Idaho

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ADAM ROSENLUND
  • Adam Rosenlund
Idaho Transportation Department officials took comment almost a month ago on a proposed rule that would again allow the shipment of so-called "megaloads" of oil refining equipment across some of the state's most scenic byways. Now, according to emails revealed by the Lewiston Tribune, it appears at least one Canada-based shipper is interested in resuming the controversial practice.

According to communications obtained through a public records request, Nickel Bros. approached ITD about moving over-sized shipments of equipment across U.S. Highway 12 en route to the oil sands in northwestern Alberta, Canada.

"I trust this email finds you well and that things have leveled off for you in terms of conflicts over [U.S.] 12," a Nickels Bros. official wrote to ITD Motor Vehicle Administrator Alan Frew. "It has been a few years since our last project in Idaho when we moved 16 large loads along [U.S.] 12 from Lewiston to Lolo Pass but we are currently contracted to move three loads ... along this same route."

It has been more than six years since megaloads started making headlines in Idaho, when the massive shipments bound for the oil sands in Canada started creeping along some of the state's most beautiful roadways. The most recent round of megaload shipments, in 2013, were met with protests by Native American tribes on U.S. 12 and a federal court ruling that the U.S. Forest Service should do more to protect the scenic corridor. 
This rocket ship-size shipment crawled across U.S. 12 in early 2013. - GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
  • This rocket ship-size shipment crawled across U.S. 12 in early 2013.

After running into a legal buzzsaw with the February 2013 federal court hearing, the loads were redirected through Lewiston and Moscow, but with more difficulty. An Oregon-based company even tried hauling the shipments across southern Idaho, but that route took much longer and was more expensive than expected.

Meanwhile, members of the Nez Perce Tribe have made it clear that if megaloads return to U.S. 12, they'll once again meet the shipments with protest. 

"If those loads roll through here, [protests] will happen," Kamiah-native Mary Jane Oatman said in September. "I guarantee it will happen."

Despite noting Nickle Bros. is "currently contracted" to ship megaloads over U.S. 12, a spokesman assured ITD the company had no desire to send any of the shipments across the route until it has a better grasp of the rules of what can or can't be shipped across the corridor.

"We're not about bullying our way through the planning process," read another email, according to the Tribune.

Environmental activists still maintain the U.S. 12 is no place for the over-sized loads.

"It makes no sense for the state of Idaho to go through a rulemaking process while the injunction still stands," Brett Haverstick, education and outreach director for Friends of the Clearwater said in September. "The state of Idaho is flaunting the federal court order, putting the cart way before the horse and acting in bad faith."