August 27, 2013 in Idaho

Megaload ban could cost General Electric millions

Eric Barker The Lewiston Tribune
 

A subsidiary of the General Electric Co. could lose millions of dollars if megaload shipments are banned or even significantly delayed on U.S. Highway 12, according to court documents.

Resources Conservation Company International, a subsidiary of the multinational conglomerate, has asked to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United that seeks to compel the U.S. Forest Service to stop the shipment of megaloads across the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.

A hearing in that case scheduled for today has been delayed until Sept. 8, and shipping company Omega Morgan has agreed not to move any megaloads across the highway until Sept. 18.

William Heins, vice president and chief operating officer for Resources Conservation Company International, said his company could suffer $3.6 million in damages if it doesn’t deliver water evaporators as contracted and on time to oil fields in Alberta, Canada.

If the company is unable to use the highway and has to find another route, it could incur additional planning, engineering and transportation costs of $5.1 million. Finally, Heins said his company would lose $75 million if delays cause its customer to cancel a contract to provide water purification equipment to the oil fields.

“I am gravely concerned about the potential delaying effect of the present lawsuit on the ability to timely deliver RCCI’s equipment,” Heins said in a deposition attached to the company’s motion to intervene in the case. “Timely transportation and delivery of RCCI’s evaporators has already been delayed due to protests of the first shipment and now the filing of the present action by the plaintiffs. Any further delay would result in substantial financial hardship.”

According to his deposition, Heins said his company “spent a significant amount of time and financial resources thoroughly investigating the most economically feasible and environmentally sound route and means to transport the evaporators.”

The route has been the subject of controversy and legal proceedings since 2010, when ExxonMobil proposed shipping more than 200 megaloads to Canada via the twisting highway that is free of obstructing overpasses. But it also travels through the Middle Fork of the Clearwater/Lochsa Wild and Scenic River Corridor, the Nez Perce Reservation and roughly follows the path traveled by explorers Lewis and Clark.

In February, Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the Forest Service has authority to review and regulate megaload shipments on the portion of the highway that crosses the forest and passes through the Wild and Scenic River corridor.

Following the ruling, supervisor of the Clearwater National Forest Rick Brazell told the Idaho Transportation Department and Omega Morgan the agency would not approve any shipments before it consulted with the tribe and had time to conduct a study on the effects of megaloads on the intrinsic and spiritual values of the river corridor.

However, the state issued a permit for the megaload and the company moved the shipment against Forest Service objections. But the agency decided not to take action to stop the shipment. Brazell said there is no code of federal regulation that would have allowed him to physically stop transport of the loads, and his agency feared it would lose a court battle if it sought a legal ruling to stop the shipment.

Tribal members and environmental activists protested along the highway and temporarily blocked the route as the shipment progressed from the Port of Wilma eastward toward Lolo Pass and the Montana state line. During the protests, the tribe and environmental group filed suit against the agency for failing to enforce its authority over megaload shipments

On Monday, the tribe welcomed the hearing delay and pledge by Omega Morgan to hold off on the next shipment.

“The Nez Perce Tribe looks forward to the hearing and the opportunity to state its case before the court that the Forest Service should uphold its duties and obligations required of it by Congress under federal law,” said tribal Chairman Silas Whitman.

Another GE evaporator awaits shipment at the Port of Wilma and the route continues to attract attention from other shippers. Leon Franks, of Contractors Cargo Co. based on Compton, Calif., said his company wants to ship three massive refinery vessels from the Port of Lewiston to Great Falls, Mont., by November.

He said the route is vital for the movement of large equipment like refinery vessels, wind turbines and power plant generators that provide electricity and fuel for a growing population.

“If you don’t do it, one day you are going to go to the light switch and flip and the lights aren’t gong to go on,” he said.

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