MOSCOW, Idaho – As yet another legal battle mounts against permitting oversized loads to be transported along the Wild and Scenic River Corridor on U.S. Highway 12, concerns vary as to whether U.S. Highway 95 could again be tapped as the next viable shipping option.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill will preside over a court hearing Aug. 27 to decide if an emergency injunction should be issued requiring the U.S. Forest Service to enforce its standards for megaload shipments through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.
The lawsuit was filed by the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United following several days of protests of an Omega Morgan evaporator shipment bound for the tar sands in Alberta, Canada.
If the Forest Service is ordered to enforce its jurisdiction over megaloads that it perceives as hazardous to the national forest and river corridor, such shipments may be halted or forced to go elsewhere.
Doral Hoff, district operations manager for the Idaho Transportation Department in Lewiston, said it isn’t likely Omega Morgan will seek permits to move any more evaporators up U.S. 95 if U.S. 12 is closed off.
“It’s pretty much the height of the load, because that’s the issue for 95,” he said, adding such clearance issues don’t exist on U.S. 12. “High loads can still go up 95, it’s just some of these are 20 feet high.”
Underpasses on U.S. 95 and Interstate 90, which could be taken to reach Montana and then Canada, have a height clearance of 14 feet.
Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil had to halve a number of its megaload shipments to haul them up U.S. 95 in 2011, and was met with regular vocal opposition as the loads rolled through Moscow at night.
“The integrity of the (evaporator) loads would be compromised if they cut them down,” said Helen Yost with Wild Idaho Rising Tide, which protested Imperial Oil transports two years ago and continues to fight other shipments to the tar sands over environmental concerns.
As for U.S. 95 megaloads, she said, “We haven’t found any cause for alarm recently.”
Hoff said ITD in Lewiston has not received any permit requests for “supersized” load shipments on U.S. 95 for some time.
While Omega Morgan’s evaporator shipments can’t come up U.S. 95, Yost said WIRT and other like-minded groups are certain the highway is still viable for similar shipments bound for Canada. It will be even more viable in the future as ITD continues to widen the highway.
“We’re just infinitely grateful that the Nez Perce Tribe has taken to the streets like we did for so long in Moscow,” Yost said. “It shows strong regional solidarity against these tar sands.”