August 10, 2013 in Region

Lawsuit fails to stop megaload shipments

Tribe, river activists seek federal court order
Craig Clohessy Lewiston Tribune
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

Construction worker D.J. Skelton, of Lewiston, sits in his pickup on U.S. Highway 12 outside of Lewiston on Tuesday, checking out an idle megaload carrying an evaporator for a Canadian oil rig.
(Full-size photo)

The Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United filed an 11th-hour lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Forest Service seeking to halt the progress of a megaload carrying equipment to the tar sands in Alberta.

Their last-minute effort failed to stop the oversized load Thursday night as it continued from Syringa on U.S. Highway 12 through the Lochsa Wild and Scenic River corridor.

Bill Sedivy with Idaho Rivers United, who served notice of the lawsuit to the rig’s driver, called the situation “lackluster” after the megaload passed by.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court at Boise, requested immediate injunctive relief, including a temporary restraining order to halt the load’s movement on U.S. 12.

Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Silas Whitman said the tribe, in filing the suit, was left with no other alternative.

“The tribe exhausted all avenues of diplomacy and outreach to elevate this issue so that it was properly addressed by the United States but we received no redress,” Whitman said in a news release. “The tribe is frustrated we have to take action in court to stop something that a court has previously ordered the Forest Service to actively regulate, but feel we have been left with no other options. Our action of filing this legal proceeding as well as our active protests on the highway to this transport was precipitated by the agency’s failure to do its job.”

Whitman was referring to a ruling earlier this year by federal Judge B. Lynn Winmill, who found that the U.S. Forest Service has authority to review megaload shipments through the Wild and Scenic River corridor that starts east of Kooskia.

Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests Supervisor Rick Brazell said he could not comment on the lawsuit until he has a chance to read the complaint. But he did say the legal action would have no effect on his agency’s commitment to consult with the tribe over the megaload shipments. A formal government-to-government consultation process is scheduled to begin Aug. 20.

“We are willing to work through this and do whatever it takes,” he said. “We are still wanting to consult with the tribe and try to figure this out.”

Brazell earlier said that despite the judge’s ruling, his agency lacks the authority to stop the megaloads.

The Idaho Transportation Department issued a permit late last week to transport company Omega Morgan of Hillsboro, Ore., which began moving the equipment that had been temporarily housed at the Port of Wilma outside Clarkston.

Nez Perce tribal members and others opposed to the loads have been protesting along U.S. 12 each night this week. Since early Tuesday morning, more than 30 protesters have been arrested, including a number of elected tribal leaders.

“The brazen action of moving this load in circumvention of the Forest Service’s stated review process, which includes tribal consultation, has caused an unnecessary firestorm of opposition and litigation,” said Whitman, who was among those arrested early Tuesday morning.

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