But Forest Service has yet to give its approval for loads to cross agency land.
Megaloads could begin rolling eastward on U.S. Highway 12 starting Monday, but their fate remains in the legal limbo between state and federal jurisdiction.
The Idaho Transportation Department issued a permit to shipper Omega Morgan on Friday, authorizing the company to begin moving massive water evaporators through Idaho and toward oil fields in Alberta, Canada, starting at 10 pm Monday. But in an accompanying letter, transportation department administrator Alan Frew advised the company that the U.S. Forest Service and the Federal Highway Administration have jurisdiction to review the permit.
“You should contact these federal agencies,” he wrote.
Omega Morgan President and CEO John McCalla sent a letter to Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell on Friday, stating the company plans to embark on Monday on a four-night trip following the highway from Lewiston to the Idaho/Montana state line at Lolo Pass. But the agency has not given its approval for the loads to cross national forest land between mileposts 74 and 174.
On Friday, Brazell again said he does not support the loads crossing the forest until agency officials have had time to consult with the Nez Perce Tribe, which opposes megaload shipments. He said the agency will respond to the company’s letter and the response will need to be approved by Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
“Until we consult, we are not approving anything from our end,” he said.
When asked by the Tribune if the company does indeed plan to start the trip on Monday, Omega Morgan spokeswoman Olga Haley said though an email, “The date for the first move has not yet been firmed up, and Omega Morgan is waiting to hear from USFS [the Forest Service].”
In February, federal Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the Forest Service has authority to review transportation department permits for megaloads that cross agency-managed land. But he did not define what that review would entail or say for sure that the Forest Service could block the shipments.
In June, when the state received an initial permit application from Omega Morgan, Brazell called for his agency and the state to establish a process to deal with megaload permitting. He also proposed a study to define scenic, recreational, and cultural values that could be affected by the shipments as they cross the forest and travel through the Middle Fork of the Clearwater and Lochsa Wild and Scenic River corridor.
Until that process is complete, he said the agency would not support shipments that are more than 16 feet wide and 150 feet long, those that take more than 12 hours to pass through the forest, and those that require the highway or adjacent vegetation to be altered.
The Omega Morgan shipment is 21 feet wide and 255 feet long. According to the permit, the shipment will have to park on Forest Service land at milepost 165, just 9 miles short of the Montana state line, on the third night of its journey.
Brazell said Friday that his agency is not likely to try and stop the shipments if the company proceeds without its approval.
“We don’t have authority to stop the megaloads,” he said. “You read the court ruling, and it says we have authority to review the state permits. We have reviewed them, and made our interim criteria.”
Brazell has received dozens of letters and messages of support from those opposed to megaloads over the past few weeks. Recently, he has begun to receive letters from people who support the loads and their potential to bring money to the area.
“We would ask and suggest to you, to the degree that you have discretion, that you would allow and support reasonable criteria with some significance in the value of commerce to the local economy,” Clearwater County Commission Chairman Don Ebert wrote in a letter to Brazell.
(By Eric Barker, The Lewiston Tribune)