BOISE – The state of Idaho has adopted new rules for giant truckloads on scenic U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, even though a federal court barred those shipments three years ago.
The new Idaho Transportation Department rules, which the board approved unanimously late last week, would require ambulances to accompany the big shipments, which take up both sides of the road; restrict the use of recreational turnouts by the loads; and allow only one megaload at a time to travel the twisting, 100-mile section of highway that traverses two federally designated wild and scenic river corridors.
Ramon Hobdey-Sanchez, governmental affairs program specialist for ITD, said the federal court injunction prohibiting the loads affects only one carrier.
The September 2013 injunction, issued by U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill, ordered the route closed “to any Omega-Morgan megaload” until the Forest Service has conducted a corridor review and consulted with the Nez Perce Tribe. The judge also wrote in his ruling, “There is no other adequate remedy besides blocking the megaloads.”
Laird Lucas, lead counsel in the case for Idaho Rivers United, one of the parties in the megaloads lawsuit, said the injunction names Omega-Morgan, the company proposing megaloads at the time, but has wider application.
“They were the ones before the court, so that’s what the court focused on,” Lucas said. “The analysis would apply to any megaloads.”
He added that if further megaloads were proposed by other carriers, his clients would go back to Judge Winmill and ask that the injunction be expanded to cover them as well. “It would be a simple matter,” he said. “We’ll be right back in court.”
The case is currently on appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which has ordered mediation. That mediation has been under way for three years now. ITD participated in it for a little under a year, but then withdrew.
The parties in the lawsuit currently are the Forest Service, the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United.
Hobdey-Sanchez said ITD believes its proposed rule changes address some of the concerns of the parties in the lawsuit.
“As of now, the corridor is currently not being used for any load of any type of that size,” he said. “Eventually there will be a decision, and this will ensure that we’ve kind of got the ball rolling in terms of guidance for the transporters.”
ITD received more than 120 comments from citizens and groups, including the Nez Perce Tribe, which questioned the timing of the new rules. Supportive comments came from the Port of Lewiston, the Idaho County Commission, a Lewis County commissioner, the Idaho Farm Bureau, and fewer than 10 others, according to the Lewiston Tribune. At a four-hour public hearing that included input by teleconference from four locations around the state, most opposed the new rules.
ITD will submit the rules to the Idaho Legislature for review in January. If the Legislature approves them, they’d take effect at the end of the 2017 legislative session.
“We told them the new rules were a bad idea, because they don’t actually protect wild and scenic values or the Nez Perce Tribe’s interests,” Lucas said. “We’re disappointed because ITD knows this is an important scenic byway, and that it’s very important to the Nez Perce Tribe – it runs right through their reservation.”
Lucas said there’s been little demand for megaloads on the route since the injunction was imposed. One company looked into it a year ago, he said, but dropped its plans after meeting with the Forest Service.
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