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Catching up on the news…

Catching up from the past week’s news while I was gone:

There was a major development in the race for state Superintendent of Schools, as the Idaho Association of School Administrators invited both candidates to speak and answer questions at a high-profile forum at its annual conference in Boise last Monday. Democratic nominee Jana Jones spoke and answered questions from the 460 school administrators in attendance, but GOP nominee Sherri Ybarra declined the invitation. During the conference, Idaho EdNews reporter Clark Corbin spotted Ybarra in the same downtown Boise neighborhood having coffee; she told Corbin she was waiting to meet with a Republican legislator and her schedule was too busy to attend the IASA conference; you can read his Monday report here, which includes reporting on Jones’ call at the conference for building a new education coalition.

Two days later, Ybarra issued a press release criticizing the Idaho EdNews story, saying she planned to attend the IASA conference as a participant later in the week. She also met with reporters and said a doctor’s appointment was among her schedule conflicts on Monday, and announced that 10 GOP lawmakers and a group of educators had endorsed her but said she wouldn’t immediately name them. There’s more on that herehere and here.

Meanwhile, this year’s Idaho Superintendent of the Year Chuck Shackett, a high-profile supporter of the voter-rejected “Students Come First” school reform laws - which Jones strongly opposed - and prominent Republican, endorsed Jones. “I trust Jana completely,” Shackett said Tuesday, hours after he was honored as superintendent of the year; he noted that when Jones, former chief deputy state superintendent, left the State Department of Education, he tried to hire her to head the Bonneville School District’s special education programs.

In other news last week, data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that Idaho residents have among the lowest personal incomes in the nation but spend a higher percentage of their money on food, housing and other essentials. AP reporter Rebecca Boone reported that Idahoans had to spend more than 43 percent of their income on the basics; only Mississippi was higher. You can read her full report here.

Former longtime Idaho Statesman political columnist and reporter Dan Popkey talked with Boise State Public Radio on why he made the switch to become 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador's new press secretary; his interview with BSPR's Scott Graf is online here.

Severe thunderstorms on Wednesday caused large amounts of sediment to flow into the South Fork of the Salmon River, killing 1,200 adult Chinook salmon at an Idaho Fish & Game trapping facility and also killing some Chinook in the river; about 200 adult Chinook were saved and transferred to a hatchery near Riggins. Because summer Chinook run in a four-year cycle, the kill is expected to result in significantly fewer of the fish returning to the South Fork in 2018.

And the Idaho Transportation Department on Friday issued a permit to Bigge Crane for a giant megaload of equipment bound for a Great Falls, Mont. oil refinery to travel up Highway 95 and across the Long Bridge to Sandpoint in North Idaho; it’s expected to reach Sandpoint around the middle of this week. Originally, the load was proposed to be hauled along Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive en route to Montana by Mammoet, but the need for a federal environmental assessment derailed that plan; the equipment, already shipped to the Port of Wilma, then was cut into three parts, with two of them shipped by rail. The third, which is 21 feet wide, 16 feet 8 inches high and 311 feet long, weighs up to 1.086 million pounds; ITD says it will travel between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.

Groups negotiating to end megaloads lawsuit

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Rivers United and the Nez Perce Tribe are in mediation with the U.S. Forest Service to end a lawsuit concerning megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 in northern Idaho. Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United said Wednesday the groups are seeking to have the federal agency come up with specific rules concerning gigantic loads traveling on the northern Idaho route that includes a federally designated Wild and Scenic River corridor as well as tribal land. The groups sued the Forest Service last year, and U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in September granted a preliminary injunction halting shipments. His ruling required the Forest Service to conduct a corridor review, and the agency on Monday released a document attempting to assess impacts the giant loads have passing through the rugged area.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.

Firm that had sought to run Korean-made megaloads through Idaho now buying locally in Canada instead

A New Yorker article out today on the saga of the Highway 12 megaloads in Idaho, headlined, “Another Oil-Sands Challenge: Transporting Equipment,” has an interesting note in it: Writer Michael Ames reports that Imperial Oil, the Exxon-Mobil affiliate that unsuccessfully sought to move 200-plus megaloads of Korean-made oil field equipment over the scenic Idaho river corridor en route to the Canadian oil sands, is now ordering equipment that’s manufactured in Alberta instead.

Ames writes that by February of 2013, after legal battles and rerouted loads, Imperial was 61 percent over budget for the first phase of its oil-sands development. “From now on, Imperial is ordering its heavy processing equipment from Canadian manufacturers,” he reports, quoting company spokesman Pius Rolheiser saying that the Highway 12 quagmire “was a significant factor in our decision not to procure modules from outside Alberta.”

Montana-bound megaloads would use part of interchange ITD abandoned after ‘90s disaster

At the east end of Coeur d’Alene, bald eagles swoop and dive over the lake as excited onlookers snap pictures or watch with spotting scopes, and others stroll by on the Centennial Trail with their dogs, enjoying the winter wildlife show. This is where a temporary onramp will be constructed to allow three giant, Montana-bound megaloads of oil refinery equipment to complete their roundabout journey through the area in January and February and trundle back onto Interstate 90 on the far side of the tall stretch of Veterans Memorial Bridge.

On Thursday night, more than 50 people turned out for a public meeting about the hauls, with questions about everything from fisheries to safety; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The area around the onramp site, at Higgens Point, is both an environmental treasure for the community and the site of an infamous environmental failure for ITD. In the early 1990s, ITD was attempting to build an interchange there when a huge landslide sent two pieces of heavy earth-moving equipment and tons of gravel into the lake, right where kokanee spawn. As part of its penalties, to mitigate the damage, ITD expanded spawning beds all along the area and built the popular Centennial Trail. It's the spawning kokanee that draw the eagles each year.

Federal authorities nixed the interchange the agency had been attempting to build, to connect the former freeway at Lake Coeur d’Alene Drive with the new one on the far side of the then-new high bridge, the Veterans Memorial Bridge. That’s why it’s now a popular recreation and wildlife viewing area with no through traffic; it's that bridge that the megaloads are skirting by following the roundabout route. The partly completed remains of the abandoned interchange are what would serve as the temporary on-ramp.

Megaload en route from Oregon could reach southern Idaho on Thursday

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A 450-ton shipment of oilfield equipment that's been rumbling toward Idaho for days should enter the state sometime Thursday night or Friday morning. The “megaload,” bound for the Canadian tar sands oil development, has been delayed by protests and bad weather in Eastern Oregon. It got permission from officials there for a daylight run Tuesday, traveling 50 miles on a stretch at elevations above 4,000 feet where the state said ice was feared after dark. A spokeswoman for the moving company, Holly Zander, said the transport could reach Vale Thursday. That's just over the border from Idaho, where the Transportation Department plans to issue a permit Thursday. On Monday, 16 people were arrested near John Day. Environmentalists tried to block the rig, contending tar-sands development will contribute to global warming.

ITD correction: Coeur d’Alene megaloads are bound for Montana, not Canada

The Idaho Transportation Department today is correcting some information it gave out yesterday regarding three giant megaloads that are proposed to travel through Coeur d’Alene on I-90 within the next month: The loads are headed for a refinery in Great Falls, Mont., as part of an upgrade, not for the Canadian oil sands, where so many other big loads passing through the state in recent years have been bound. “I apologize for that,” said Adam Rush, ITD spokesman. “We’ve had different shipments going in different areas. They’re going to Great Falls and not Canada.”

The three loads, proposed by hauler Mammoet USA South, Inc., are equipment that’s being delivered as part of a refinery upgrade at the Calumet Refinery in Great Falls, Rush said.

Freeway closures, onramp work planned for I-90 in Coeur d’Alene for megaloads

The Idaho Transportation Department is inviting the public to a meeting Thursday in Coeur d’Alene to discuss on-ramp widening and brief, temporary closures of I-90 at Sherman Avenue that are planned to allow three megaloads of oil field equipment bound for Canada to pass through. The three giant loads – which each will measure 472 feet long, 27 feet wide, about 16 feet tall and weigh 1.6 million pounds – could travel within the next month, said ITD spokesman Mel Coulter. “The public meeting is designed to explain it to the public and get some feedback,” he said “It’s not imminent.”

The megaloads, being hauled by Mammoet USA South, Inc., would arrive at I-90 from the Lewiston area via U.S. Highway 95, exit I-90 at the Sherman Avenue interchange, travel 5.5 miles along East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive, pass under the I-90 overpass west of Higgens Point, and re-enter I-90 at a temporary on-ramp that ITD said is “mostly completed” on the north side of I-90. “The on-ramp, which is on public right of way, will have widening work done to allow the shipments to use it,” ITD said in a news release. Coulter said the freeway likely would close for only about 10 minutes at a time.

Other megaload transports in the region have drawn protests and lawsuits; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Megaload inches closer to Idaho

A 450-ton shipment of equipment bound for the Canadian oil sands is slowly making its way across eastern Oregon, and is expected to be near the Idaho border on Wednesday, the Ontario Argus Observer reports. The shipment, so large that it creates a rolling roadblock on the two-lane roads it's traveling, is moving only at night; it's been delayed both by wintry weather and protests. The item, a giant piece of water purification equipment being hauled by Omega Morgan for a division of General Electric, is the first of three; it's expected to arrive in Vale, Ore. on Wednesday morning. Click below for a full report the Argus Observer and the Associated Press.

Megaload leaves eastern Oregon after protests

A transport rig carrying a 450-ton piece of equipment bound for the Canadian oil sands left a northeast Oregon port on Monday night, the AP reports, a day after protesters halted its earlier planned departure on Sunday, resulting in two arrests. The water purification equipment is destined for Alberta; from eastern Oregon it will travel through Idaho and Montana, traveling only at night because it's so large it'll take up both lanes of the two-lane sections of roads it travels. The megaload, being transported for a division of General Electric, is 22 feet wide and 380 feet long; the company had earlier planned to send the loads over north-central Idaho's scenic U.S. Highway 12, but was halted by a lawsuit and protests from the Nez Perce Tribe. The East Oregonian newspaper reported that the load left the Port of Umatilla shortly before 8 p.m. Monday, infuriating protesters who felt the early evening departure violated an Oregon Transportation Department permit. Click below for the full AP report.


Protesters delay Idaho-bound megaload’s departure from Oregon

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: UMATILLA, Ore. (AP) — Protesters blocked the departure of an oil refinery megaload Sunday night at the Port of Umatilla. The East Oregonian reports (http://bit.ly/IAGuWa) two protesters were arrested after they locked themselves to the truck. It took police two hours to remove the men, and by the time they finished it was 11:30 p.m. A planned departure last Tuesday also was protested. The company handling the move said it was delayed because it took more time than expected to load and secure the equipment. The megaload is oil refinery equipment destined for Alberta, Canada. It's 380 feet long and weighs 450 tons. From eastern Oregon it will travel through Idaho and Montana. Environmentalists are fighting the shipment to draw attention to concerns about climate change from developing tar sand oil in western Canada.

Click below for a full report from the AP and the East Oregonian in Pendleton.

Megaload transport runs into objections in Oregon

The start of a megaload shipment of oil refinery equipment through Eastern Oregon has been put off until Sunday, the AP reports, and objections have been raised in Eastern Oregon that the state didn't do enough to notify tribal and local government officials. The shipment has also drawn protests from environmentalists gathered Sunday and Monday at the Port of Umatilla; they want to call attention to the global warming repercussions that could come from development of oil from the tar sands in western Canada. The shipment weighing 901,000 pounds remained at the Port of Umatilla on Tuesday, two days after it was scheduled to move. Click below for a full report from the AP and the Argus Observer in Ontario.

Megaload hauler proposes route in Oregon, southern Idaho

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A company hired by a subsidiary of General Electric to ship massive oil refinery equipment to the tar sands project in Canada is now seeking to haul the oversized loads across eastern Oregon and southern Idaho. The first of three megaloads could begin making its way through Oregon this weekend before crossing into Idaho's southwestern corner next week. The Oregon Department of Transportation has already issued permits for the first shipment, while Idaho highway officials are still studying the travel plan submitted by shipper Omega Morgan. The new proposed route comes months after a federal judge in Idaho blocked the company from traveling along U.S. Highway 12 and a protected wild and scenic river corridor in northern Idaho. The megaloads would leave Idaho and enter Montana along U.S. Highway 93.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

GE subsidiary drops megaload appeal

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — A General Electric Co. subsidiary has given up its legal fight to haul the second of two huge loads of water purification equipment through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest and will find another way to get the equipment to the Canadian oil fields. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/HjByVF) Resources Conservation Company International filed documents Thursday saying it was dropping its emergency motion to stay an injunction that prevented it from using the U.S. Highway 12 route. GE issued a statement saying the equipment is important to its customers and it will focus on finding alternative shipment options. Last month, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued an injunction that effectively blocked the GE unit from hauling large loads along the winding, two-lane road that passes through tribal lands and a federally designated Wild and Scenic River corridor.

Four Omega Morgan mini-megaloads head up Highway 95 from Lewiston, but big one still at port

Late yesterday afternoon, the Idaho Transportation Department announced four oversized loads from Omega Morgan would travel up Highway 95 from Lewiston to Coeur d’Alene, starting last night at 9:30, en route to I-90 to Montana. “Each shipment is 20.1 feet wide, 15.6 feet tall, 75 feet long and weighs under 80,000 pounds,” ITD spokesman Adam Rush reported. “They will enter Idaho from the Port of Wilma in Clarkston, Wash., using Idaho 128. Once the shipments reach Coeur d'Alene, they will travel eastbound to Montana on Interstate 90.”

Remember that Omega Morgan has had a giant water evaporator bound for the Canadian oil sands sitting at the Port of Wilma, stalled by a federal court order, since it sent a similar one across Highway 12 in north-central Idaho in August for a division of General Electric. The company argued that the megaloads couldn’t be reduced in size, and thus had to travel over the scenic river corridor, which unlike the I-90 freeway, has no overpasses that limit heights. The Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United sued the U.S. Forest Service, which has jurisdiction over designated Wild and Scenic Rivers corridor, and a federal judge halted the shipments until the Forest Service has completed a corridor study and consulted with the tribe. On Friday, the company filed a notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

So has the evaporator has now been cut up into four loads? ITD says no. “The equipment shipped last night is different than the equipment proposed to travel U.S. 12,” said ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten. “That equipment is still at the port of Wilma.”

ITD reports that three flagging teams, two pilot vehicles and portable signs are traveling with each pair of shipments as they move up Highway 95 and along I-90, and delays for other traffic on 95 are required to not exceed 15 minutes. “Locations have been identified along U.S. 95 where the shipments can safely pull over to let traffic pass,” Rush said. Click below for his full news release.

Federal judge refuses to lift ban on Highway 12 megaloads

A federal judge has denied motions from both a division of General Electric and the U.S. Forest Service to lift a ban on megaload shipments across a scenic stretch of U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill rejected arguments from the firm and the Forest Service that he should either reconsider the injunction he issued, banning the loads until the Forest Service has conducted a corridor study and consulted with the Nez Perce Tribe; or stay the injunction while the company appeals it.

The judge said he couldn’t issue such a stay unless the company, Resources Conservation Company International, made a “strong showing” it was likely to succeed on the merits in the case, and that it would be “irreparably injured” without a stay. “The court cannot find that RCCI has made a strong showing that it will prevail on appeal,” Winmill wrote. “Moreover, any likely damages are monetary in nature and not irreparable.”

The law also requires consideration of whether a stay would “substantially injure” the other parties in the proceeding, and of the public interest, the judge wrote. “Staying the injunction will cause the very harm plaintiffs complain about in this lawsuit, harm the Court has found would be irreparable,” Winmill wrote; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United sued after RCCI sent a 322-ton load, big enough to block both lanes of the winding two-lane road and create a rolling roadblock, across the route in August en route from Lewiston to the Canadian oil sands, and announced plans for another to follow. They contended allowing the loads without first studying impacts and consulting with the tribe would violate federal law, and could threaten environmental, historical and cultural values in the area, which includes the Nez Perce Reservation.

Idaho Lost More Than Megaload Case

Friday U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill put a hold on General Electric's second evaporator, which was supposed to leave the Port of Lewiston today bound for the tar sands of Alberta. Then he stripped Idaho of its control over that and future megaload shipments along U.S. Highway 12 - and handed it over to the U.S. Forest Service and the Nez Perce Indian Tribe. Take a minute. Let it sink in. The state of Idaho no longer controls its only highway linking Lewiston to Lolo, Mont. You don't see that every day/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.


Forest Service issues closure order for megaloads on Highway 12

The U.S. Forest Service has issued a closure order barring megaloads from Highway 12 through the Lochsa-Clearwater Wild and Scenic Rivers corridor in north-central Idaho, pursuant to a federal judge's ruling; you can see the order here. In a statement, the Forest Service said the route, from mileposts 75.2 to 174.4 in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, is now closed to loads more than 16 feet wide or 150 feet long; to loads that would take more than 12 hours to traverse that section of road; or loads that “requires physical modification of the roadway or adjacent vegetation to facilitate passage beyond normal highway maintenance.” The closure order is in effect “until rescinded,” the Forest Service reported; click below for the Forest Service statement.

Today is the day that Omega Morgan, the transport company at which the closure order is addressed, had planned to ship another giant load across the route for a subsidiary of General Electric, an evaporator headed for the Canadian tar sands.

Forest Service says it’s preparing megaloads closure order, pursuant to court ruling

The U.S. Forest Service has issued the following statement in response to U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill's ruling today halting megaloads on scenic Highway 12 in North Idaho: “In compliance with the Judge’s order, the Forest Service is preparing a closure order for mega-loads traveling Highway 12 between mileposts 74 and 174.  The Forest Service anticipates its study of the corridor to be completed by the end of September and it will continue to consult with the Nez Perce Tribe. We are continuing to review the decision to determine what further action, if any, to take.”

Elizabeth Slown, director of public and governmental relations for the Forest Service's northern region in Missoula, said no decision has been made as to any appeal of the ruling.

IRU: Oil sands projects can find other shipping routes to Canada, or build their equipment there

Idaho Rivers United, the Idaho conservation group that joined the Nez Perce Tribe in suing to block megaload transports on scenic Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, called a federal judge’s ruling today in the case “a win for all who cherish the esthetic, spiritual and recreational values of the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers.” Kevin Lewis, IRU conservation director, said in a statement, “The judge has provided the time-out needed to complete the environmental reviews, tribal consultation and rule-making necessary to protect this beautiful river corridor.”

The group said the case has implications for other federally designated Wild and Scenic River corridors across the country. “Industrialization doesn’t work there,” said IRU Executive Director Bill Sedivy. Lewis said as numerous large oil projects get under way in northern Alberta’s oil sands, “These companies, some of the largest in the world, can afford to build their equipment in Canada or find other routes to ship it there.” You can read IRU’s full statement here.

G.E. ‘disappointed’ by court ruling, defends megaload shipping plans

A subsidiary of General Electric that hoped to ship a second giant megaload over scenic U.S. Highway 12 in North Idaho next week in route to the Canadian oil sands said today it was “disappointed” with a judge’s order blocking its shipment, and defended its shipping plans. “While we now must review our options, we have addressed the safety, environmental and aesthetic considerations in choosing this route for shipment,” Bill Heins, chief operating officer of RCCI, the affiliate, said in a statement. The company said the equipment it wants to ship, a water evaporator, has “significant environmental benefits” because it will result in big water savings and less wastewater discharge during the heavy oil recovery process in the tar sands. You can read the firm’s full statement here.

Nez Perce Tribe applauds megaloads ruling

Silas Whitman, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, issued a statement today applauding a federal judge’s ruling ordering the Forest Service to halt megaload transports across scenic Highway 12 in central Idaho until it’s completed a corridor study and consulted with the Nez Perce Tribe. “The Tribe is pleased the Court’s decision recognizes the Tribe’s sovereignty and its rights and interests,” Whitman said. Noting the judge’s statement in his ruling that the tribe is seeing to “preserve its treaty rights along with cultural and intrinsic values that have no price tag,” Whitman said, “This speaks to the truth regarding the heart of the Nez Perce people and our connection to our homeland.”

“The Tribe will not let U.S. Highway 12, both through the national forest and Wild and Scenic River corridor and the Nez Perce Reservation, be transformed into an industrial corridor,” Whitman said. You can read his full statement here.

Federal judge orders injunction blocking Highway 12 megaloads

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill has ruled in favor of the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United, ordering an injunction blocking further megaload transports on scenic U.S. Highway 12 until a corridor study and consultation with the tribe have been completed by the U.S. Forest Service; you can read the judge’s ruling here, and read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The judge noted that after he ruled last winter that the Forest Service had authority over megaloads on the route, the Idaho Transportation Department nevertheless issued a permit to Omega Morgan to haul a General Electric megaload over the route in August, an evaporator bound for the Canadian oil sands, and the Forest Serrvice objected, but didn’t stop it. “In an earlier decision in a related case, the Court held that the Forest Service must ‘enforce all relevant legal authorities, including, but not limited to, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act … .’ ” Winmill wrote in his ruling.  “The Forest Service was taking the position that it had authority to review but not to enforce. Obviously, that was an erroneous reading of the Court’s decision.”

The injunction orders the Forest Service to close Highway 12 to any Omega Morgan megaloads from mileposts 74 to 174, “until the Forest Service has conducted its corridor review and consulted with the Nez Perce Tribe;” the company had planned to send another giant load over the route on Sept. 18. It argued that it will lose millions if it can't deliver the equipment to Canada on time, but the judge wrote that the company had been informed by the attorneys for megaload opponents back in April of the opposition and the costs incurred by previous firms proposing megaload shipments on the route.

“In April of 2013, plaintiffs’ counsel sent a letter to Omega-Morgan putting them on notice that they would be attempting to block any shipments down Highway 12 unless Omega-Morgan obtained permission from the Forest Service,” Winmill wrote. RCCI, the GE division sending the load, “decided, however, to proceed before the Forest Service could complete its corridor study and consultation with the Tribe. In other words, RCCI knowingly put its loads into a position where the company would incur $5 million in losses if it must wait for the Forest Service review. Given these circumstances, the Court cannot find that the balance of equities tips in defendants’ favor. In fact, it tips the other direction due to the clear command of the Tribe’s Treaty rights, NFMA (National Forest Management Act), and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. For those same reasons, the Court finds that an injunction is in the public interest.”

He noted, “The plaintiffs are not seeking damages; they are seeking to preserve their Treaty rights along with cultural and intrinsic values that have no price tag.” 

28 members of Nez Perce Tribe charged in megaload protest

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: LAPWAI, Idaho (AP) — Twenty-eight members of the Nez Perce tribe, including eight members of the tribe's executive committee, are charged with public nuisance infractions for protests last month seeking to stop a “megaload” from traveling through the reservation. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/17sW9yW) the charges were filed Wednesday. Tribal executive committee chairman Silas Whitman was among those charged. Court documents say those charged entered the eastbound lanes of U.S. Highway 12 early on Aug. 6 “while traffic was attempting to proceed and refused to leave the highway.” An arraignment is set for Sept. 20 in Nez Perce Tribal Court. Special Prosecutor Michael Cherasia was appointed to handle the cases. The equipment they tried to stop is to be used to treat water at an oil sands project in Alberta, Canada.

Megaloads fight hits courtroom; tribe says it’s being ‘pushed into a corner’

An exhausted federal judge, nearing his 10th hour in court, promised late today to have a decision by Friday on the Nez Perce Tribe’s challenge to continued megaload shipments along scenic Highway 12 through its reservation. “I don’t know when we’ll find the time, given what we’re doing now … but we’ll somehow have a decision out before the end of the week,” U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said after hearing an hour of arguments from both sides in the case; he’d been in another extended trial since early morning, a major white-collar crime case that had been expected to be wrapped up by now, but instead has several weeks left.

Silas Whitman, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, welcomed the prospect of a quick decision. “We need the word one way or another, what’s going to happen,” he said. Whitman said he’s “very concerned” about the prospect of another giant load traversing the route as soon as Sept. 18; Whitman was among those arrested in protests of an earlier, similar load in August. “They’re pushing us into a corner,” he said, “and the last time we were pushed, we left and tried to go to Canada.  We’re tired of being pushed into corners to carry out manifest destiny. That’s not the name of the game any more.”

Bill Heins, vice president and chief operating officer for GE Water and Process Technologies, a subsidiary of General Electric, said he, too, is eager for the judge’s decision. His firm has a giant water evaporator sitting at the Port of Wilma awaiting transport to the Canadian oil sands; he said in court documents that GE will face $3.8 million in fines under its contract if the equipment doesn’t arrive in time. “We’re eager to get this piece of evaporator equipment up to the job site,” Heins said after the court hearing.

Winmill ruled last winter that the U.S. Forest Service has authority to review megaload shipments over the scenic route, which crosses through the Nez Perce Reservation, a federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers corridor, the national forest and numerous historical and recreational sites. The Forest Service has announced plans do a study of the corridor and consult with the Nez Perce Tribe over the matter, and pleaded with the Idaho Transportation Department not to issue permits for more megaloads in the meantime; they are loads so large that they take up both lanes of the two-lane, winding road, creating rolling roadblocks. But ITD issued permits for the August load anyway, and the Forest Service, while noting it hadn’t approved the load, took no action to stop it.

Monday’s arguments centered on whether the court can order the Forest Service to take action, including to close the road temporarily to further megaloads; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Highway 12 megaloads dispute heads to Boise federal courtroom today

The dispute over megaload transports on Idaho's scenic Highway 12 heads to a Boise federal courtroom this afternoon, as U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill hears arguments from both sides. The Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United have sued the U.S. Forest Service for failing to block a megaload transport in August, after Winmill ruled last winter that the Forest Service has jurisdiction over the transports through the national forest and designated wild and scenic river corridor; the Forest Service had initiated a study and consultation with the tribe over the issue and asked the Idaho Transportation Department not to issue permits for the giant load while those efforts were in progress, but when it did anyway, the federal agency didn't stop the transport. Protests ensued as the load traveled the route, and among those arrested were nearly every member of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.

The giant loads are so large that they block all traffic on the on the narrow, two-lane highway, creating rolling roadblocks. Resources Conservation Company International, a division of General Electric that sent the big load and has another one awaiting transport on the route, has intervened on the side of the Forest Service in the case, and says it stands to lose $3.6 million if it doesn't get the loads to the Canadian oil sands on time. In addition, the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association, which represents the oversized-load trucking industry, has filed to participate in the case on the Forest Service's side. 

The tribe and IRU are asking the court to immediately block any further megaloads from the route until the Forest Service completes a corridor study and consults with the tribe about the transports, as required under an array of federal laws. “The agency cannot simply waive or defer its consultation responsibilities until after the management activity occurs because to proceed with enforcing its directives would be inconvenient or politically challenging for the Forest Service,” attorneys for the tribe and IRU wrote in documents filed with the court. The Forest Service counters that it's made no final decision that could be reversed by the court, and still is studying the issue; it argues that if the tribe and IRU want to block ITD from issuing permits, it should sue ITD. Click below for a preview of today's hearing from AP reporter John Miller.

Megaloads hearing delayed, but no loads to travel before new hearing date

A federal court hearing originally scheduled for tomorrow afternoon on Highway 12 megaloads has been postponed to Sept. 9, after a company that’s already sent one giant load over the route this summer agreed to hold off on any further shipments until at least Sept. 18. The U.S. Forest Service asked Omega Morgan, the shipping company, to hold off on that first load until it could develop review guidelines for such loads and consult with the Nez Perce Tribe, in accordance with a federal court ruling last winter that the Forest Service has jurisdiction over the loads. But the Idaho Transportation Department issued Omega Morgan a permit, noting that it still had to deal with the Forest Service; the company then shipped the load, which drew protesters along the route, saying it’d consult with the Forest Service after the shipment, and the Forest Service didn’t stop it.

Protesters who were arrested included nearly every member of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.

The Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United then filed a federal lawsuit against the Forest Service seeking an emergency injunction halt such shipments. That’s what the now-delayed hearing was on. The owner of the giant equipment, which was being shipped to the Canadian oil sands, GE Water and Process Technologies, has now filed to intervene in the lawsuit on the side of the Forest Service; the court announced, “The proposed intervenors represented that no shipments will proceed over Highway 12 before September 18, 2013. In reliance on that, all agreed to the following schedule,” including rescheduling the hearing to Sept. 9; that will allow all parties to file required briefs and responses. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, who also issued last winter’s ruling, will preside over the hearing.

Megaload fight headed to federal court

A court hearing that could decide the future use of U.S. Highway 12 by shippers of megaloads has been set for Aug. 27 before Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Boise.

Last week, the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for not stopping transport company Omega Morgan from hauling a 21-foot-wide, 255-foot-long, 644,000-pound evaporator across the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest via the twisting highway that also passes through the Middle Fork of the Clearwater-Lochsa Wild and Scenic River corridor.

The tribe and environmental group have asked Winmill to issue an emergency injunction that would compel the Forest Service to enforce its jurisdiction over megaload shipments across the forest and through the Wild and Scenic River corridor. Read more.

Any predictions as to the ultimate outcome?

ITD issues permit for Highway 12 megaload

The Idaho Transportation Department today issued a permit for a giant megaload to travel across scenic Highway 12 in northern Idaho en route to the Canadian oil sands, even though the U.S. Forest Service has said the load cannot be allowed without extensive federal review and consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe, and a federal judge ruled that federal agencies have oversight in the wild and scenic river corridor. ITD issued the permit anyway, which it said is effective starting Monday at 10 p.m., but also told the shipper, Omega Morgan, that it'll have to deal with the Forest Service and the Federal Highway Administration. The load already has been barged up the Columbia River to the Port of Wilma.

“The shipper has met Idaho’s criteria to be issued an over-size permit,” said Idaho Transportation Department Chief Deputy Scott Stokes. “We have issued that permit so that it now can be reviewed by the two federal agencies.”

The Forest Service had urged the ITD not to issue the permit, and took issue with ITD's position that it has no choice under state law.

ITD, feds at odds over Highway 12 megaloads

The Lewiston Tribune reports today that the U.S. Forest Service is revising one of its interim criteria on megaloads at the request of the Idaho Transportation Department, but the two agencies remain at odds over the prospect of giant truck shipments across U.S. Highway 12 through designated Wild and Scenic River corridors and the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, despite a federal court ruling saying the Forest Service has jurisdiction. The paper also reports that shipping company Omega Morgan wants to move as many as 10 megaloads from the Port of Wilma to oil fields in Alberta, Canada, over the route, and to press its point has already shipped two to the port, where they sit awaiting permits.

ITD Chief Deputy Scott Stokes asked the Forest Service last week to reconsider its position that loads that stop all traffic on the road require review. Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell, in a July 26 letter, answered back that he’d consider revising it to match the state’s standard for when a load requires a traffic plan, which would mean more reviews than the previous interim standard; click below for the full AP version of the story.

Brazell wrote in his letter that federally protected values that could be impacted in the corridor include recreation, fisheries, wildlife, water quality, scenery, historical and cultural sites, and tribal religious and cultural sites. “The State’s current position that permits will be issued regardless of the potential for such impacts seems to be in direct conflict with the recent Federal Court Ruling,” Brazell wrote. “The Federal Court Ruling made that clear by confirming the Forest Service’s role in reviewing permits in light of all laws governing National Forest Lands and the physical and intrinsic values associated with these lands. Idaho Code 49-1004 gives the State the discretion to issue permits but does not mandate permits to be issued.”

Yesterday, the Idaho Transportation Board held a special meeting in executive session reportedly to address personnel and legal matters, meeting behind closed doors. The board took no action and declined to say whether it addressed the megaloads issue.

Highway 12 megaloads controversy takes another turn…

The controversy over shipping oversize loads to Alberta’s oil patch through an Idaho river corridor took another turn last week, reports Spokesman-Review reporter Becky Kramer. 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, creatinga rolling roadblock. 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, pursuant to a federal court decision.

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. You can read Kramer’s full story here at spokesman.com.