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Saturday, December 7, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Nez Perce say they will stop U.S. 12 megaload

Omega Morgan megaload route, July 2013
Omega Morgan megaload route, July 2013

Nez Perce leaders said late Monday night they intended to intercept a shipment of giant oil refinery equipment as it reached the reservation boundary east of Lewiston en route along U.S. Highway 12 to Canada.

Reports from the Lewiston Tribune quoted Tribal Chairman Silas Whitman saying: “We are tired of being pushed.”

At press time Monday, more than 100 tribe members were amassed and leaders said they were ready to be arrested as the trucks began to roll, heightening the showdown over megaloads. Problems have been anticipated since Friday, when Idaho Transportation Department officials granted a permit to Oregon-based Omega Morgan over the objections of the tribe and the U.S. Forest Service. The issue grew heated Monday as the shipper announced plans to roll out Monday night.

More than 100 demonstrators have gathered near the Clearwater River Casino, awaiting the first 225-foot-long load proceeding from the Port of Wilma near Clarkston and bound for the oil sands in Canada.

Nez Perce officials said its members are prepared to be arrested for assembling to stop the loads, which would travel through the tribe’s reservation and ancestral homelands, as well as a federally designated Wild and Scenic River Corridor protecting the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers.

“The tribe will not stand idly by and allow Omega Morgan to create false urgency and provoke unnecessary conflict,” Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Silas C. Whitman said in an earlier statement. “Actions beyond mere words may be necessary in order to have the Nez Perce Tribe’s voice heard.”

Wild Idaho Rising Tide, an environmental group also opposed to the shipments, said it was ready to “peacefully stand with our tribal allies” against the shipments and it urged people to join a demonstration Monday night.

The company, hired to move the equipment for General Electric Corp., said Friday it would begin moving the first load Monday night. A spokeswoman for the company did not respond Monday to repeated requests for comment.

The ITD issued a warning to North Idaho motorists Monday afternoon to expect delays of up to 15 minutes as the megaload begins its trek. The agency also said, “Any unlawful interruption in travel on state and federal highways would involve a response by the Idaho State Police.”

The company’s travel plans also were challenged by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Rick Brazell, the forest supervisor, sent a letter Monday telling the company it does not yet have permission to pass through a 100-mile section of U.S. 12.

Brazell wrote that the Forest Service, in consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe, will need to complete a “social science study of the intrinsic values and how people may be impacted by the so-called ‘megaload’ shipments.” That study should be completed “in the next few months,” he said.

Brazell also said the state should not have issued the permit before the federal review could be completed “to avoid transporters from being put in this awkward position.” In a separate letter Monday, he told ITD Chief Deputy Scott Stokes he was disappointed the permit had been issued ahead of the review.

In an interview Monday, Stokes said ITD had no option but to issue the permit after the shipper satisfied all safety and mobility requirements under state law for proceeding with the oversized loads on U.S. 12.

“We’ve made it clear to Omega Morgan that the Forest Service does have jurisdiction there that needs to be satisfied,” Stokes said. “So we don’t really have a mechanism to deny a truck these movements as long as they’ve satisfied our rules and our requirements.”

In February, federal Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the Forest Service has authority to review megaload permits when they cross national forest land. The Forest Service said it also is responsible for consulting with the tribe to ensure its treaty rights are protected.

“The Forest Service must not tolerate Omega Morgan’s open defiance of its authority and instead should aggressively assert, in court if necessary, the (state) agency’s decision” to permit the shipments to go forward, Whitman stated.

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