HELENA - Protesters formed another blockade on the Nez Perce Reservation near the town of Orofino Wednesday night, as members of the tribe and environmental activists continue efforts to slow a shipment of oil refinery equipment en route to the Alberta tar sands in Canada.
The law enforcement presence Wednesday night was larger than in the previous two demonstrations, according to Borg Hendrickson, an activist with The Rural People of Highway 12 Fighting Goliath, which has opposed so-called megaload truck shipments along the U.S. Highway 12 corridor for the past three years.
Law enforcement vehicles trailed the truck for at least 36 miles as it headed east Wednesday night, Hendrickson wrote in an email. While the truck’s permit requires it to stop at intervals to allow traffic to pass, Hendrickson reported the Omega Morgan truck traveled without stopping, blocking traffic for several hours along the isolated road that snakes its way across the reservation and into Montana.
While Montana has now granted permission for the material to pass through that state, the dispute shows no signs of easing.
About 100 demonstrators gathered Wednesday night along the highway near Orofino, Idaho, for a third night of protest as the shipment drew near. The megaload’s permit only allows it to travel at night.
Nez Perce Tribal Police and Idaho State Police troopers told the protesters to move off the highway or risk arrest, The Lewiston Tribune reported. The protesters included a mix of Nez Perce tribal members and others.
Police were able to move the protesters away from the highway, allowing the giant load to accelerate away, leaving demonstrators unable to keep up, the newspaper reported.
Late Monday and early Tuesday, protesters tossed rocks into the road in front of the truck outside Lewiston, stopping the load for about two hours. Twenty people were arrested, including eight members of the Nez Perce tribal executive committee.
Protests late Tuesday and early Wednesday led tribal police to arrest nine people on suspicion of disorderly conduct, the Lewiston Tribune reported. Protesters objected to the tribal police role in trying to keep the equipment moving after tribal officials asked the U.S. Forest Service to block the loads.
On Wednesday, the Montana Department of Transportation issued a permit allowing Oregon-based Omega Morgan to haul the large water purification unit through northwestern Montana and into Canada for an oil sands project.
Duane Williams, administrator of Montana’s Motor Carrier Services Division, says the $3,195 permit allows Omega Morgan to travel through Montana, beginning as early as Thursday.
He said he hadn’t heard of any plans to protest the load’s movement in Montana.
The Omega Morgan load is scheduled to enter Montana on U.S. Highway 12 over Lolo Pass, travel through Missoula and cross over the Continental Divide at Roger’s Pass on Montana Highway 200. The load will then travel north on U.S. Highway 87 through Choteau to Secondary 44 west of Valier. The load will continue north through Cut Bank and enter Canada at the Port of Sweetgrass.
The load is 21 feet wide and weighs 644,000 pounds. Omega Morgan wants to move at least nine of the large loads along the two-lane route.