LEWISTON – The U.S. Forest Service has told the Idaho Department of Transportation it can’t support an application for a massive shipment to move on U.S. Highway 12 across North Idaho and into Montana.
The Lewiston Tribune reported in a story on Saturday that Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell sent a letter to ITD Chief Deputy Scott Stokes informing him of the federal agency’s decision.
The state agency is considering an application from Omega Morgan to move a water purification vessel weighing 644,000 pounds from the Port of Lewiston along the Wild and Scenic River corridor to the Montana border. The load would be 255 feet long and 21 feet wide.
Brazell said in the letter that the agency will review any load that requires traffic to be fully stopped, can’t complete the route in 12 hours or that requires physical modification of the roadway or nearby vegetation. Brazell said the Omega Morgan load hits all three categories.
“Until we have a clear understanding of those potential impacts, I cannot support authorization of such oversized loads through the National Forest or within the Wild and Scenic River corridor,” Brazell wrote.
Transportation department spokesman Jeff Stratten in an email to the newspaper said the agency officials “will be discussing the letter with the Forest Service to review its concerns.”
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in a ruling in February following a lawsuit by a conservation group made clear the Forest Service had authority to get involved in the state’s decision to permit the large shipments, and in fact “acted unlawfully” by standing on the sidelines in previous megaload shipments.
Brazell said he wants the state, Forest Service, Federal Highway Administration and Nez Perce Tribe to define “the physical and intrinsic values associated with the Highway 12 corridor that may be affected by oversized loads.”
“We want to get something going so we can show (the judge) we are doing our due diligence and trying to look out for the wild and scenic river and the tribe’s interests,” Brazell said.
He said he’s open to a discussion on what defines a megaload. The state, since Winmill’s ruling, has been seeking the Forest Service’s approval for every oversized load on the corridor.
“We want to get to the point of let’s quit worrying about a big combine coming through and get to the stuff everybody was worried about in the first place, the really big stuff,” he said.