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Highway 12 megaloads worry Idaho tribe

In this Dec. 31, 2013, file photo, a security officer walks past a megaload stopped outside of Arco, Idaho, about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, Idaho. (Pat Sutphin / Associated Press)
In this Dec. 31, 2013, file photo, a security officer walks past a megaload stopped outside of Arco, Idaho, about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, Idaho. (Pat Sutphin / Associated Press)
By Stacy Thacker Lewiston Tribune

LAPWAI, Idaho – A stand against future oversized shipments on U.S. Highway 12 is being called for by some Nez Perce tribal members.

About 20 people with the Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment group gathered Monday evening to discuss the issue of megaload shipments traveling on the winding mountain road. The loads can be 200 feet long, weigh about 490,000 pounds and are wide enough to block both lanes of traffic. Members of the group worry the large shipments could eventually start affecting the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.

Three years ago, the oversized loads were barred from traveling Highway 12. But with the Idaho Transportation Department looking to update rules regarding the large shipments, tribal members are worried the oversized loads will be able to travel the highway again.

Tribal members and community members blocked the roadway the last time megaloads traveled through the region in 2013 on their way to the Alberta tar sands.

Diane Mallickan, a tribal member, said she hopes it doesn’t come to blocking the road, but “if it does, it does.”

“They’re not going to get through next time,” Mallickan said. “We got to do our part and not let them onto the reservation.”

Julian Matthews, a tribal member and member of the environmental group, said the problem is determining where the tribe’s treaty rights begin.

“Where do we have the right to determine what passes throughout our treaty area?” he said. “It’s hazy.”

While the transportation department wants to change the rules, he said, nothing can legally happen until the process goes through the U.S. Forest Service and the tribe. A written comment period on the megaload proposal is taking place now. A public hearing via video will take place from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the transportation department in Lewiston.

“ITD’s trying to change the regulations,” Matthews said. “I don’t know what their plan is.”

“We want to get as many people down to these events,” Matthews said, adding he wants to get as many people as possible involved and educated on the issue.

Matthews said the tribe wasn’t consulted the first time a large shipment went through and fears that the tribe won’t be consulted this time around. For the tribe, he said it’s more than just the value of natural resources, it’s about protecting them for future generations.

“It should be rejected outright,” Matthews said of the transportation department’s proposal.

Environmental activist Pam Russell said she’s ready to chase an oversized load out of the area.

“I chased a megaload all the way into Montana,” she said. “Let’s do this.”

Tribal member Pam Eneas said she’s ready to chase down megaloads, too.

“We don’t need any more megaloads,” she said. “Highway 12 has been designated a wild and scenic highway. Doesn’t that mean anything?”

Eneas wonders why officials are trying to run these big trucks through Indian Country. She lives on Highway 12 and said the road is already narrow enough without a big truck going through.

“What if one of them runs off the road?” she asked. “The guardrail isn’t going to stop them.”

Tribal member Elliott Moffett shared that concern.

“They’re so huge that if one of those trucks turned over into the river, you can’t get any equipment up there to retrieve it,” Moffett said.

Although the large trucks aren’t hauling chemicals and toxins, Moffett said they still have potential to harm the environment.

Brett Haverstick, education and outreach director with environmental group Friends of the Clearwater, noted the written comment period on the transportation department’s megaload proposal has been extended to Oct. 14.

“It’s really good that we have two more weeks,” he said. “We need to hit ITD over the head with a lot of public comments.”

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