The Port of Lewiston has applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to expand their dock facilities into the Clearwater River. The Port is proposing this expansion explicitly to increase its capacity to accommodate larger equipment and oversize cargo, likely more oil-processing megaloads that haulers could transport on U.S. Highway 12 and/or U.S. Highway 95 and onward to the interstate system and the Alberta tar sands. As a tax-payer funded project that could receive support amid ubiquitous budget crises, the expansion may also encourage later silt dredging in front of Port terminals and/or raising of the Lewiston dikes to offset possible flooding aided by ongoing silt accumulations. Further discharge of dredged and fill materials into the river could adversely impact water quality. This potential Port enhancement could also simultaneously buttress the economic viability of the four lower Snake River dams while further jeopardizing the recovery and restoration of wild salmonid and other fish populations in the Clearwater Basin. All of these consequent conditions could precipitate myriad negative socioeconomic and ecological effects in our region.
Unless the Corps grants an extension, the 30-day public comment period for the Port’s expansion plan expires on Friday, July 22. Please ask for an extension of the comment deadline that currently deters many regional residents who travel during the summer months from submitting comments. Demand a series of public hearings in Lewiston and the affected highway corridor cities, during which public officials could share information and accept input. Also tell Corps decision makers that the current environmental assessment for the Port’s plan is inadequate and that an environmental impact statement should be prepared to study the cumulative impacts of this project. See the Port of Lewiston Expansion Permit Application and consider utilizing some or all of the preceding and following talking points provided by our allies All Against the Haul, Fighting Goliath, and Friends of the Clearwater. Send your emailed concerns to the Army Corps of Engineers at PortofLewiston-PN@usace.army.mil or your mailed written comments to:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Idaho Falls Regulatory Field Office
900 N. Skyline Drive, Suite A
Idaho Falls, Idaho 83402-1700
1. The Port states that two of the purposes of this project are increasing efficiency and allowing the berthing of multiple barges. While container and bulk shipping out of the Port has declined significantly over at least the last five years in almost all categories of cargo, berthing multiple barges hardly seems to be a high Port priority or a defensible use of taxpayer expenditures.
2. The project’s other purpose, to accommodate the loading and unloading of oversized cargo, emerges as perhaps the most potentially valid reason to expand the Port. However, before approving the application for a dock extension, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should consider the following facts:
* The Port manager has told the press that the Port of Lewiston has no contract for any significant handling of oversized cargo, and that the Port may never see any more cargo of this nature other than the 33 Imperial Oil modules now being reduced for transport on U.S. Highway 95.
* The first trial transports of oversized cargo, locally referred to as megaloads, have not been successively executed. ConocoPhillips landed four loads at the Port on May 17, 2010. After sitting on the dock for nearly nine months due to legal challenges, the first two loads required 65 days to travel from Lewiston to Billings, Montana. The second two loads left Lewiston on April 30 and May 7, 2011, and still have not arrived in Billings. The only other megaload shipment, belonging to ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil, remains stalled seven miles inside the Montana border. The transport across Idaho and Montana of the type of oversized loads for which the dock would be extended has thus far proven difficult.
* Numerous media stories have cited sources within the oil industry stating that they are looking at several other routes for transport of Asian-manufactured equipment to Alberta, Canada – the destination of the bulk of the anticipated oversized cargo.
3. The transport of megaloads across Idaho and Montana is presently being challenged in both state and federal courts as well as through an agency contested case hearing. Considering that a major reason for the dock extension is the handling of oversized cargo for transport on highways across these states, any approval of the project in question prior to the settlement of these legal issues is premature.
4. The vast majority of the expenditures for the proposed dock expansion would come from local, state, and federal resources, that is, from American taxpayers. In times of extremely tight budgets at all three levels of government, spending money on such a questionably productive venture is unjustified.
5. According to the Public Notice of Application for Permit, project evaluation will look at the cumulative effects of the proposal. The Port of Lewiston has stated its belief that if one oil company is successful in transporting megaloads on the Highway 12 route across Idaho, many more will follow. If the Port’s prediction is accurate, the cumulative effects of this project would arise from the conversion of the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway and All-American Road, as well as the Clearwater and Lochsa Wild and Scenic River Corridor, into what the industry and state of Montana has referred to as a permanent “high and wide corridor” that would accommodate the transport of giant loads of industrial equipment. Expert and citizen testimony has attested that the cumulative effects of such a conversion would include damages to north central Idaho’s important tourism industry, continuous risks to citizen health and safety, considerable public inconvenience, and losses of residential property values, among other economic and social costs.
6. The Port of Lewiston has already demonstrated its ability to offload massive equipment at its present dock facility. The four ConocoPhillips half coker drums offloaded in May 2010 and the 34 Imperial Oil modules offloaded in October and November 2010 represent the largest pieces of cargo that have ever arrived at the Port or been allowed to travel on Idaho’s roadways. Imperial Oil’s test validation module, which the corporation said represented the largest of any of their proposed 200-plus modules, was among the 34 modules the Port handled successfully. The Port’s present dock thus appears quite capable of serving this purpose.
7. The Clearwater National Forest Supervisor and Region 1 Regional Forester of the U.S. Forest Service have both expressed major concerns about the transport of so-called megaloads of equipment on highways through the Clearwater and Lolo National Forests, which would impact their ability to manage these forests in accordance with federal laws and forest plans.
8. The Nez Perce Tribe and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have raised significant concerns about transporting the oversized cargo facilitated by the Port dock expansion through their allotment and reservation lands across Idaho and Montana, where these transportation projects could compromise their treaty rights and access to traditional hunting and fishing grounds.
9. The amount of silt accumulating in the vicinity of the Port of Lewiston limits water depth for barge traffic to the Port’s dock. In 2012, the Corps intends to present a new dredging plan for the Clearwater River that will supposedly meet court-ordered requirements for such action. The future ability of fully loaded barges to access the Port depends upon the Corps’ capacity to address these serious sedimentation issues. Spending millions of taxpayer dollars on this dock extension prior to completion of the Corps’ new dredging plan would seem a potentially wasteful use of scarce governmental fiscal resources.
(From WIRT Newsletter)