BOISE – A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Forest Service had the authority two years ago to intervene in Idaho’s decision to permit a series of massive shipments of oil refinery equipment along U.S. Highway 12.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued his ruling Thursday in a lawsuit filed by an environmental group that opposed the so-called megaload shipments along the scenic roadway that cuts across north-central Idaho and into Montana.
The ruling has no impact on the giant ExxonMobil shipments that began their journey more than two years ago at the Port of Lewiston and traveled east along the scenic, two-lane roadway to Lolo Pass, through Montana to the Kearl Oil Sands project in southern Alberta. The highway winds along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers, a mountainous and forested corridor protected by the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
In his 18-page ruling, Winmill made clear the Forest Service had authority under the 1968 law to get involved in the state’s decision to permit the shipments, and in fact “acted unlawfully” by standing on the sidelines.
The decision also marks a victory for Idaho Rivers United, which filed the lawsuit in 2011 accusing the federal agency of neglecting its obligation to protect the corridor.
“The Forest Service has previously indicated its desire to protect the Wild and Scenic corridor. Now that it’s been established that it has that ability and authority, we look forward to working with the agency to protect this very special place,” IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Idaho, which represented the Forest Service, did not immediately respond to a request Friday by the Associated Press for reaction to the judge’s decision.
To accommodate the big trucks and massive loads, some of which reached 300 tons, crews trimmed 500 trees along U.S. Highway 12 and created additional turnouts for the trucks to park and wait out bad weather or let traffic pass.