The controversy over shipping oversize loads to Alberta’s oil patch through an Idaho river corridor took another turn last week.
Two giant water-purification units arrived at the Port of Wilma in Clarkston, but it remains unclear when, or if, the equipment will get clearance to travel through Idaho on U.S. Highway 12.
The units would take up both sides of the two-lane highway. A subcontractor for Omega Morgan, a heavy equipment hauler, has submitted a plan to the Idaho Transportation Department for moving the units through Idaho at night. However, the U.S. Forest Service is still in negotiations with ITD over the agency’s oversight role in the permitting process.
About 100 miles of the U.S. 12 route pass through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, encompassing a number of protected areas. The route is part of a Wild and Scenic River corridor, lies adjacent to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area and crosses the Lolo Trail National Historic Monument.
In response to a lawsuit brought by Idaho Rivers United, a federal judge ruled earlier this year that the Forest Service has the authority to review the state’s permitting process.
Because the area is part of the Nez Perce Tribe’s ancestral homelands, the Forest Service also is responsible for consulting with the tribe to ensure its treaty rights are protected, said Heather Berg, Wild and Scenic Rivers administrator for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.
The Forest Service has proposed reviewing any loads that would cause traffic to stop in both directions, can’t complete the route within 12 hours, or would require alterations to the roadway or adjacent vegetation. Berg said the Forest Service must determine what impacts the loads would have on protected areas along the 100-mile route.
Each load carrying a water purification unit would be 255 feet long and 21 feet wide, weighing about 644,000 pounds, according to the traffic plan submitted to the state. The loads would take about four days to cross Idaho, traveling between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
An earlier proposal by an ExxonMobil subsidiary to ship oil sands equipment across Idaho on U.S. 12 also sparked controversy. Only one of those shipments went through. The company opted to transport the rest of the equipment on U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 90.
That’s not an option for Omega Morgan, however, because the water purification units are too tall to fit under I-90 overpasses, said Adam Rush, an ITD spokesman.