Confrontation imminent as Nez Perce vow to stop megaload tonight
Nez Perce Tribe leaders said late Monday night they intended to intercept a shipment of giant oil refinery equipment as it reached the reservation boundary east of Lewiston en route along U.S. Highway 12 to Canada.
Reports from the Lewiston Tribune quoted Tribal Chairman Silas Whitman saying: “We are tired of being pushed.”
The showdown over megaloads has been anticipated since Friday when Idaho Transportation Department officials granted a permit to Oregon-based Omega Morgan over the objections of the tribe and the U.S. Forest Service. The issue grew heated on Monday as the shipper announced plans to roll out Monday night.
More than 100 demonstrators have gathered near the Clearwater River Casino, awaiting the first 225-foot-long load proceeding from the Port of Wilma near Clarkston, Wash., and bound for the oil sands in Canada.
Nez Perce officials said its members are prepared to be arrested for assembling to stop the loads, which would travel through the tribe’s reservation and ancestral homelands, as well as a federally designated Wild and Scenic River Corridor protecting the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers.
“The tribe will not stand idly by and allow Omega Morgan to create false urgency and provoke unnecessary conflict,” Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Silas C. Whitman said in a statement. “Actions beyond mere words may be necessary in order to have the Nez Perce Tribe’s voice heard.”
Wild Idaho Rising Tide, an environmental group also opposed to the shipments, said it was ready to “peacefully stand with our tribal allies” against the shipments and is urged people to join a demonstration tonight.
The company, hired to move the equipment for General Electric Corp., said Friday it would begin moving the first load tonight. A spokeswoman for the company did not respond today to repeated requests for comment.
The ITD issued a warning to North Idaho motorists this afternoon to expect delays of up to 15 minutes as the megaload begins its trek. The agency also said, “Any unlawful interruption in travel on state and federal highways would involve a response by the Idaho State Police.”
The company’s travel plans also were challenged by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Rick Brazell, the forest supervisor, sent a letter today telling the company it does not yet have permission to pass through a 100-mile section of Highway 12 corridor.
Brazell wrote that the Forest Service, in consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe, will need to complete a “social science study of the intrinsic values and how people may be impacted by the so-called ‘megaload’ shipments.” That study should be completed “in the next few months,” he said.
Brazell also said the state should not have issued the permit before the federal review could be completed “to avoid transporters from being put in this awkward position.” In a separate letter today, he told ITD Chief Deputy Scott Stokes he was disappointed the permit had been issued ahead of the review.
In an interview today, Stokes said ITD had no option but to issue the permit after the shipper satisfied all state requirements for proceeding with the loads on Highway 12.
“We’ve made it clear to Omega Morgan that the Forest Service does have jurisdiction there that needs to be satisfied,” Stokes said. “So we don’t really have a mechanism to deny a truck these movements as long as they’ve satisfied our rules and our requirements.”
In February, federal judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the Forest Service has authority to review megaload permits when they cross national forest land. The Forest Service said it also is responsible for consulting with the tribe to ensure its treaty rights are protected.
The Nez Perce tribal executive committee passed a resolution Sunday opposing the shipments and urging the Forest Service to block them.
“The Forest Service must not tolerate Omega Morgan’s open defiance of its authority and instead should aggressively assert, in court if necessary, the (state) agency’s decision” to permit the shipments to go forward, Whitman stated.
Spokane-based Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of fishing businesses and conservation organizations, also spoke out against the shipments, saying they threaten restoration of endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead runs.
In a statement today, Wild Idaho Rising Tide said, “We share deep concerns and opposition to the fossil fuel industry’s aggressive disregard and adverse impacts on the unique Nez Perce traditional homeland and landmarks, cultural and treaty-reserved resources, and tribal commerce and government function.”
Each load carrying a water purification unit would be 255 feet long and 21 feet wide and weigh about 644,000 pounds, according to the traffic plan submitted to the state. The loads would take about four days to cross Idaho, traveling between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
An earlier proposal by an ExxonMobil subsidiary to ship oil sands equipment across Idaho on U.S. 12 also sparked controversy. Only one of those shipments went through. The company opted to transport the rest of the equipment on U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 90.
That’s not an option for Omega Morgan, however, because the water purification units are too tall to fit under I-90 overpasses, ITD has said.