Parties agree to work on memorandum of understanding covering oversize loads on U.S. 12.
Officials from the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) met with Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell in Grangeville on Monday to discuss megaloads and the future of the massive cargo shipments along U.S. Highway 12 as it passes through the forest.
Last month, Brazell sent a letter to ITD Chief Deputy Scott Stokes, outlining what he called interim criteria to deal with the shipment of massively oversized loads through the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River and Lochsa River Wild and Scenic River Corridor.
According to the criteria, Brazell and the Forest Service won’t support any loads that require traffic to be stopped to facilitate passage, those that can’t make it through the corridor in 12 hours or less, and those that would require the physical modification of the roadway or adjacent vegetation.
Stokes and ITD Chief of Operations Jim Carpenter flew into Grangeville for a 75-minute meeting and, according to Brazell, agreed the two agencies should work on a memorandum of understanding that covers a number of highway operations, including megaloads.
Much of the two-lane road is built on national forest land and operated by the state via a right-of-way easement. Earlier this year, federal Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the Forest Service has authority to review the department’s approval of megaload shipments that pass through the Wild and Scenic River Corridor. The agency wants to develop a formal process that would include a study of the intrinsic values of the corridor and how oversized loads might affect them.
“They (ITD officials) understand our concerns about having a study and having something to anchor to, as we make decisions about values on the river,” Brazell said. “But we don’t know how we are going to get there. There is really no funding now to do the study, so we might have to work with the interim guidelines for quite a while.”
The company Omega Morgan recently sought permission to move a 255-foot-long and 21-foot-wide water purification vessel weighing 644,000 pounds from the Port of Lewiston to the Idaho-Montana state line near Lolo Pass via the scenic byway. Brazell has said the shipment would trigger all three of his interim criteria and he won’t support it.
He recently received a letter of support from Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Silas Whitman. “We support the agency’s commitment to establishing a formal evaluation process that will include the Tribe and which will seek to address the Tribe’s longstanding and unresolved concerns over the impacts of megaloads on U.S. Highway 12,” Whitman said in his letter. “The Tribe believes that this commitment is consistent with the Forest Service’s treaty and trust responsibilities to the Tribe, as well as the agency’s legal responsibilities as articulated by Judge Winmill.”
Brazell has also received dozens of letters of support from individuals and groups from around the country who are concerned about megaloads and their effects on the corridor, recreation, and the scenic beauty of the highway.
“A lot of them have the same message, ‘Thank you for your letter to ITD and looking after the values of the Wild and Scenic River Corridor,'” he said.
Despite the ruling and the federal agency’s position, Brazell said he was told state law does not allow ITD to deny a permit for oversized shipments, if they meet the department’s criteria. Brazell said Stokes and Carpenter told him the state may decide to issue permits for oversize loads that trigger his criteria but also inform shippers they need to seek additional authorization from the federal agency.
“It could be similar to the suction dredging where the state issues a person a permit and then says you have to talk to the Forest Service before you take the load across the highway.”
Idaho issues permits to recreational dredge miners who want to look for gold on public streams and rivers. But the miners must also work with the Environmental Protection Agency and Forest Service, before mining on streams that run through national forest land.
Adam Rush, an ITD spokesman, said in an email to the Tribune that the bulk of the meeting was spent discussing the interim criteria. He also said Omega Morgan is considering resubmitting its permit application.
(By Eric Barker, The Lewiston Tribune)