The Return of the Megaload: Tribes Threaten Protest If Shipments Return to Scenic Highway 

ADAM ROSENLUND
  • Adam Rosenlund
The proposal to transport so-called "megaloads" of oil refining equipment across U.S. Highway 12 resurfaced this week, when Idaho Transportation Department officials took comment on a proposed rule that would allow "oversized" shipments through the scenic byway.

The new rule would allow permitting for shipments exceeding 16 feet in length and that would require more than 12 hours to travel through the Wild and Scenic River Corridor and Nez Perce National Forest—specifically, the section of U.S. 12 from milepost 75.2 to milepost 174.3.

It's 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.
click to enlarge 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.

In recent years, widespread controversy over the rocket ship-sized loads came to north-central Idaho when oil giants like Exxon Mobil/Imperial started pushing equipment up U.S. 12. Environmentalists and Native American tribes met the shipments with protests, and a U.S. district judge ruled in February 2013 that the federal government had the authority—and the obligation—to regulate megaloads crawling through such a pristine environment.  

The loads were then redirected through Lewiston and Moscow, but with more difficulty. Oregon-based Omega Morgan even tried hauling the shipments across southern Idaho, but the route took much longer and was more expensive than they had planned.

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. 

click to enlarge Native American tribal members and environmentalists met megaload shipments with protests in 2013. - GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
  • Native American tribal members and environmentalists met megaload shipments with protests in 2013.

"If those loads roll through here, [protests] will happen," Mary Jane Oatman, of Kamiah, told the Lewiston Tribune. "I guarantee it will happen."

Environmentalists say ITD's proposed rule change is a slap in the face to the 2013 federal court ruling.

"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, told the Tribune. "The state of Idaho is flaunting the federal court order, putting the cart way before the horse and acting in bad faith."

Initially, ITD had said it would stop accepting feedback on the rule at the end of this week but changed its mind, extending the comment period to Friday, Oct. 14.
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