Are megaloads preparing to again invade U.S. Highway 12, through the remote Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest and the Lochsa-Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic River corridor?  On September 7, 2016, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) distributed a media release, read by a Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) activist to participants in the #NoDAPL Fundraiser and Rally in Lapwai, Idaho [2, 3]. ITD is proposing new, illegal rules for oversize shipments – megaloads – on Highway 12, seemingly to circumvent ongoing mediation among several parties to a federal lawsuit. In September 2013, in response to this case argued by Advocates for the West for Idaho Rivers United (IRU) and the Nez Perce Tribe against the U.S. Forest Service, a federal district court in Boise issued an injunction blocking any transport wider than 16 feet, longer than 150 feet, and traveling slower than 12 hours on the 100 miles of Highway 12 between Kooskia, Idaho, and the Montana border [4, 5]. ITD’s version of the situation suggests that:
Recent federal litigation raised new considerations for certain oversize vehicles and non-reducible loads traveling through the Nez Perce National Forest (NPNF) on U.S. 12. The federal district court held that the United States Forest Service (USFS) has concurrent jurisdiction of vehicles and loads traveling through the NPNF. The USFS responded and stated it would review all oversize vehicles/loads greater than 16 feet wide and/or 150 feet in length, when such vehicles or loads travel on U.S. 12 between milepost 74 and milepost 174.
While current federal lawsuit litigants have necessarily remained silent about the results of confidential negotiations developing criteria and rules for Highway 12 megaloads over the last three years, the Forest Service has only established interim oversize vehicle definitions, which the proposed ITD rules mimic, not regulations governing their movement. An outsider to mediation talks, ITD is currently rushing the usual, inclusive, rulemaking procedures, contending that IRU, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Forest Service “have no apparent motivation to pursue a resolution in the mediation mentioned above. Thus, a compromise or consensus cannot be reached through negotiation.”  Anxious to devise new Highway 12 megaload rules and lure commenters to its side of this issue, the state transportation agency is perhaps again attempting to gain some legal control over megaload permitting decisions for the stretch of highway requiring U.S. Forest Service approval and consultation with Nez Perce officials. But since U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued the Highway 12 megaload injunction, the state of Idaho lacks both the authority and discretion to allow certain types of shipments through this federally protected Wild and Scenic River corridor managed by the Forest Service, with required tribal and public input, for values generally contrary to massive, industrial equipment traffic.
Because tribal, conservation group, and federal agency representatives still engaged in mediation processes ordered by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cannot talk about this issue, indigenous and grassroots groups and individuals who know the extended history, background, and complex intricacies of the megaload issue must lead this round of resistance. We again call on allies across the region to assert diverse, creative responses seeking to abolish ALL fossil fuel and industrial infrastructure from Highway 12 and beyond, while supporting tribal and non-Native partners in this opposition. Let’s maximize this opportunity to proactively unify our voices: NO MEANS NO to megaloads in Idaho!
Please join strong, statewide protests and sit-ins against proposed ITD rules for Highway 12 megaloads, led by Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) activists between 3 and 6 pm Pacific time/4 and 7 pm Mountain time on Wednesday, September 28, at the Idaho Transportation Department district office at 2600 Frontage Road in Lewiston, Idaho, during ITD’s public hearing presumably only livestreamed/teleconferenced from Boise, rather than from all of the hearing locations at ITD district offices . As the region apparently readies to confront another onslaught of megaloads through the traditional, ancestral lands and waters of the Nimiipuu people, protectors have requested the presence of legal observers and state legislators at these protests. We are encouraging friends across the state to arrive early and sign-up to speak, pack hearing rooms, rally at solidarity actions, reject these premature ITD rules, ask for an extension of the comment period and an expansion of hearing sessions to include impacted communities, and keep ITD officials listening long into the night at ITD headquarters in Boise at 3311 West State Street and at ITD district offices in Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston, Pocatello, Rigby, and Shoshone concurrently on Wednesday. Moscow-Pullman carpools to Lewiston are departing at 2 pm on Wednesday from the parking lot near the Rosauers sign at 411 North Main Street in Moscow, Idaho. Continue reading