The chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee said Wednesday blockade efforts will continue to slow passage of a 322-ton megaload truck carrying oil refinery equipment through its reservation, as legal action is eyed for Thursday.
“We can’t hold off our people unless there’s some definitive action,” Silas Whitman said.
Tuesday night, about 10 protesters were booked on more serious charges than in Monday night’s demonstrations, Whitman added. Those arrested Tuesday faced charges of disorderly conduct and a $75 fine. Those booked into jail early Wednesday were slapped with $500 fines, he said.
“We’re at a point, what do we have to lose?” Whitman said.
Protests began Monday near the Clearwater River Casino, just inside the Nez Perce tribal lands boundary. A crowd of about 200, including almost all members of the tribe’s governing body, gathered to condemn the actions of General Electric, which owns the equipment being shipped, and Omega Morgan, an Oregon-based hauling company hired and permitted by the Idaho Transportation Department to move the load along Highway 12 after dark.
Tuesday night, a smaller group of protesters blocked the path of the truck on Highway 12 near its split with Highway 95 a few miles east of the casino. Law enforcement officials from various agencies warned those in the roadway they were creating a public nuisance, which was met with shouts of “We’re protecting our sovereignty.”
The protest remained peaceful, though Whitman’s fellow member on the executive committee, Anthony Johnson, said he saw an “escalation” that troubled him Tuesday night.
“We had a few young people taking matters into their own hands,” Johnson said.
That included heaving rocks into the roadway, which had to be removed by law enforcement and Omega Morgan employees. Protesters walked alongside the 225-foot-long megaload truck for several hours Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning as it crept along the rural highway, dotted sporadically with streetlights and river access points as it cleaves a path through the Clearwater River Valley.
The original hauling permit stated the truck would make its way into Montana by Thursday, but Whitman said civil disobedience efforts put the company a day behind on its schedule. Protests would continue all the way to the tribal land boundary, about 5 miles east of the town of Kooskia along the Clearwater River. From there, the highway continues for about 8 miles to the western edge of Clearwater National Forests, where environmental activists have said they will also make a stand.
Members of several environmental groups were on hand Tuesday night, including Cass Davis of Wild Idaho Rising Tide and Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United. Sedivy’s group successfully brought a legal challenge against the loads, which according to a February federal court ruling require the permission of both the tribe and the National Forest Service.
“We’ll have our day,” Sedivy said Wednesday morning as the truck continued its path along Highway 12.
On Tuesday, Clearwater National Forest supervisor Rick Brazell said his hands were tied in enforcing the federal ruling until more data on environmental effects could be obtained. Any action taken without a proper study could be construed as “arbitrary and capricious,” Brazell said.
Whitman blamed higher-ups in the national agency for not standing behind Brazell and the Clearwater Forest in its condemnation of the shipment.
“He (Brazell) keeps getting slapped every time he turns around,” Whitman said.
Protest efforts will likely take place Wednesday night along the Highway 12 corridor near Orofino in the northeastern portion of tribal territory, Whitman said.