The Spokesman-Review

Opinion

Editorial: Thorough, fair ruling for U.S. 12 megaloads

With the megaload shipments suspended along U.S. Highway 12 in Idaho, it looks like this issue will now be handled the way it should’ve been all along. But not before lawsuits, protests and arrests, all of which might’ve been averted if the law and the process had been respected from the beginning.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill smacked the U.S. Forest Service for failing to abide by last winter’s ruling that gave the agency the authority to conduct a review before any loads could roll.

Seemingly confident the agency wouldn’t stop them, Omega Morgan, a trucking firm hired to carry the General Electric load, went ahead and obtained a permit from the Idaho Transportation Department, which gladly accepted the money.

The U.S. Forest Service said it wasn’t finished with its review but didn’t seek an injunction. And so in the wee hours last month, the 322-ton load chugged through the Nez Perce Reservation along a route christened a Wild and Scenic River Corridor. Along the way, it was met with peaceful protesters, and 28 members of the tribe were arrested.

Another GE load, headed for the massive tar sands project in Alberta, was set to depart Wednesday, but now it’s been blocked. Resources Conservation Co. International, a GE subsidiary, says this decision could cost it millions, but that stems from the company’s willingness to gamble on the prospect of the judge’s order being ignored.

It won one and lost one.

But it probably wouldn’t have gambled if the corridor hadn’t already been used by other companies shipping loads that are too large for overpasses and tunnels on other routes. That precedent is important, but unfortunately those cases were also messy.

Now the gambling should be stopped for good, and a firm process for reviewing such shipments that respects the law and all affected parties must be followed. This would give other companies who hope to ship along this route the certainty they need. If the process is too onerous, they should seek other routes or other strategies.

There is limited benefit for the United States in serving as a byway, especially when the route is revered for its pristine scenery. The latest cargo was an industrial evaporator built in British Columbia and headed for Alberta. Previous loads have originated in South Korea. Some of those loads were broken into smaller pieces for shipment after reaching the Lewiston port.

Under Winmill’s ruling, the U.S. Forest Service must conduct a review of whether such shipments violate the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and it must consult with the tribe. Meanwhile, the state of Idaho should respect that process by holding off permitting until federal reviews are complete.

We understand that some protesters are also concerned about global warming and the Alberta project’s potential contribution to that. But this isn’t where that battle should be fought.

The judge’s ruling is quite simple. There was a law to be respected, and it was overrun. Now there’s a clear route to follow.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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