Marty Trillhaase, Editorial Page Editor, Lewiston
The Lewiston Tribune 6/30/13
Topography and weather blocked ExxonMobil’s grand plan for a fleet of 200 megaloads following a well-coordinated timetable toward the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, along U.S. Highway 12.
Winter and tight corners along the river corridor meant only a test load reached the Montana state line – days later than planned – only to be stopped by legal hurdles on the other side.
Loads piled up at the Port of Lewiston until they were cut down to sizes capable of clearing interstate highway overpasses and sent on their way north along U.S. Highway 95.
Left in limbo, however, was the fate of the occasional megaload.
Ruling in favor of Idaho Rivers United, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill last winter ruled that the U.S. Forest Service is obligated to exercise jurisdiction over any megaload seeking to traverse the Wild and Scenic River corridor along Highway 12.
The Middle Fork of the Clearwater and the Loscha rivers were among the first seven waterways granted that designation in the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
All of which meant Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell would be asking questions far beyond the engineering and traffic safety scope of the Idaho Transportation Department: How would a megaload disrupt the aesthetic values? Was it compatible with tourism and recreation? And what does the public prefer?
Brazell’s first opportunity to decide emerged last week, when Omega Morgan proposed running a 255-foot-long, 21-foot-wide transport carrying 644,000 pounds of water purification equipment from Lewiston toward Alberta.
Brazell was firm: Not if it meant stopping traffic to allow the megaload to proceed, becoming a nuisance to tourists and a safety concern to residents.
Not if it required longer than 12 hours for the load to travel about 100 miles, thereby requiring the massive hulks to park somewhere along the corridor during the day. While it’s hard to say the machinery is a visual blight at 3 am, it’s impossible to say otherwise at 10 am.
And not if passage of the behemoth required trimming trees, chipping rock walls, creating new turnout zones, or requiring “modifications of the roadway or adjacent vegetation to facilitate passage beyond normal highway maintenance.”
Not, Brazell said, until his agency, working with the Nez Perce Tribe and Federal Highway Administration, has a chance to fully vet the issue in what sounds like a comprehensive corridor management plan.
“Transport of such loads may impact visitor and traveler experiences and affect cultural and intrinsic values associated with the corridor,” he wrote to Idaho transportation officials.
Given the agency’s stretched resources in the post-sequestration era, it’s not difficult to imagine such an evaluation taking some time to get underway. Even at that, it’s conceivable, when you get down to the nubs of this question, that the Forest Service may find a rolling roadblock has no place in a Wild and Scenic River corridor. Plus the burden of proof has shifted to the trucking industry to make that case.
Bottom line: More than three years after Big Oil spied U.S. 12 as a pathway to Alberta, the door has been closed. Maybe permanently.