Marty Trillhaase, Editorial Page Editor, Lewiston
The Lewiston Tribune 7/25/13
Riddle us this, Batman: What does Omega Morgan know that everyone else does not?
The transportation company – at no small expense – navigated two megaloads of equipment manufactured by Ellett Industries up the Columbia and Snake rivers to the Port of Wilma – in anticipation of moving them up U.S. Highway 12 toward the Alberta tar sands.
Which, says Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell, “is setting us up for a showdown.”
But over what?
If anyone can see any flexibility in Brazell’s recent policy closing U.S. 12 to megaload traffic, please enlighten us.
His authority is rock solid. It comes from U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill.
So is Brazell’s mandate. That flows through the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.
The Middle Fork of the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers were among the first seven waterways designated by that 1968 legislation. In ruling for Idaho Rivers United, Winmill said the Forest Service is obligated to exercise jurisdiction over any megaload seeking to traverse through that river corridor.
So Brazell imposed three conditions for any megaload transport company contemplating using U.S. 12. Meeting one is all but impossible, let alone all three:
* It can’t take longer than 12 hours to travel about 100 miles from Kooskia to Lolo Pass. Has any previous megaload cleared the corridor in 12 hours?
Some have parked in Kooskia. Some have parked at different locations along the corridor. Weather stalled some shipments. Obstacles stopped others. And in one case, Montana courts blocked an ExxonMobil load at the border.
Given the weight of these loads, many have been forced to stop, add more axle configurations, and then crawl across bridges at speeds much slower than the average needed to clear 100 miles in 12 hours.
Given the length of these loads, some also have been delayed by the sharp turns along the way.
* It can’t stop traffic. Let’s see here. With a megaload measuring about 225 feet long and 21 feet wide, how is that supposed to happen?
The highway itself is roughly between 24 and 26 feet wide. The average passenger car is about 6 or 7 feet wide. The average tractor-trailer is about 9 feet wide. By its very definition, any megaload becomes a rolling roadblock.
When the Idaho Transportation Department authorized transports, it at least required the operators to pull over every 15 minutes to let traffic pass – and megaload critics say that 15-minute rule was repeatedly violated.
* It can’t require the trimming of trees, the chopping of rock walls, the creation of new turnout zones, or the “modification of the roadway or adjacent vegetation to facilitate passage beyond normal highway maintenance.” If a megaload rushes to meet a 12-hour deadline to clear the corridor, might it cut a few corners in the process?
Plus Brazell says he will run anything by the Nez Perce Tribe, which opposed megaload shipments in the past. If nothing else, that means delay.
If Brazell is wavering in that view, why did he tell KRFP Radio in Moscow just last week: “I want to emphasize that the Forest Service wants to make the right decisions for this corridor. We really believe in the values of the Wild and Scenic River and want to uphold our responsibility. The court has told us that we have authority. We didn’t believe we had authority because it was deeded easement. I guess we’re glad the court has clarified that for everyone. So now we know we have that, and we’re going to be proactive and very vigilant in making sure we do our due diligence on that highway.”
Even if the Forest Service were to soften its stance, where does Omega Morgan see any opportunity in the courts? Idaho Rivers United spent two years winning this case. Does Omega Morgan really think IRU is going to allow a megaload to visit U.S. 12 without first asking Winmill what he thinks about it?
So the shipment sits parked at the Port of Wilma.
And there the riddle stands.