Eye On Boise

U.S. Forest Service says no to Highway 12 megaloads, following federal court ruling

The U.S Forest Service has turned thumbs down on the first of nine megaloads of mining equipment bound for the Alberta tar sands proposed to travel across the winding, wild and scenic Highway 12 river corridor from the Port of Lewiston to Montana. "The authorization of oversized loads needs to consider the continued enjoyment of this area by people traveling, living, working and recreating in the corridor, particularly during the season of heavy visitor use," Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell wrote in a letter to the Idaho Transportation Department; you can read it here. "The experience people expect to find is a narrow, winding road with beautiful views of the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers and surrounding wild lands, with road-side turnouts available for them to take it all in This is the experience marketed by the ITD website and Scenic Byways brochures and is found in Forest Service information as well."

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled in February that the Forest Service has a duty to regulate such loads in the wild and scenic river corridor, whereas previously it had ceded that authority to ITD. Now, Brazell wrote, the Forest Service is reviewing any loads that will require traffic on the highway to be fully stopped, require longer than 12 hours to travel through the corridor, or require physical modification of the roadway or adjacent vegetation. The Omega Morgan proposal for the first of nine gigantic loads, this one a water purification vessel weighing 644,000 pounds, 255 feet long and 21 feet wide, triggered all three of those criteria, Brazell wrote. Plus, he noted that formal consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe would be required to approve any loads meeting those criteria, "which may take substantial time."

Wrote Brazell to ITD, "I appreciate your authority and expertise in matters relating to highway travel and safety and have committed my staff to continue to work with you as they have in the past to facilitate your management, operations and maintenance of Highway 12. However, the U.S. District Court has ruled that my agency has full authority to protect the Wild and Scenic River corridor and its values notwithstanding the State's easement for U.S. 12. I hope you will work with us as we seek to redeem our respective duties." Click below for a full report from the Lewiston Tribune via the AP.

Forest Service opposes proposed megaload shipment

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has told the Idaho Department of Transportation it can't support an application for a massive shipment to move on U.S. Highway 12 across northern Idaho and into Montana.

The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/11v5q83) in a story on Saturday that Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell sent a letter to ITD Chief Deputy Scott Stokes informing him of the federal agency's decision.

The state agency is considering an application from Omega Morgan to move a water purification vessel weighing 644,000 pounds from the Port of Lewiston along the Wild and Scenic River corridor to the Montana border. The load would be 255 feet long and 21 feet wide.

Brazell said in the letter that the agency will review any load that requires traffic to be fully stopped, can't complete the route in 12 hours, or that requires physical modification of the roadway or nearby vegetation. Brazell said the Omega Morgan load hits all three categories.

"Until we have a clear understanding of those potential impacts, I cannot support authorization of such oversized loads through the National Forest or within the Wild and Scenic River corridor," Brazell wrote.

Transportation Department spokesman Jeff Stratten in an email to the newspaper said the agency officials "will be discussing the letter with the Forest Service to review its concerns."

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in a ruling in February following a lawsuit by a conservation group made clear the Forest Service had authority to get involved in the state's decision to permit the large shipments, and in fact "acted unlawfully" by standing on the sidelines in previous megaload shipments.

Brazell said he wants the state, Forest Service, Federal Highway Administration and Nez Perce Tribe to define "the physical and intrinsic values associated with the Highway 12 corridor that may be affected by oversized loads."

"We want to get something going so we can show (the judge) we are doing our due diligence and trying to look out for the wild and scenic river and the tribe's interests," Brazell said.

He said he's open to a discussion on what defines a megaload. The state, since Winmill's ruling, has been seeking the Forest Service's approval for every oversized load on the corridor.

"We want to get to the point of let's quit worrying about a big combine coming through and get to the stuff everybody was worried about in the first place, the really big stuff," he said.

___

Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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