Protesters unable to stall oversized shipment, but tribe plans to take the fight to court today
Nez Perce tribal members and other megaload protesters were largely unsuccessful Wednesday night in their efforts to slow the shipment as it travels on U.S. Highway 12 en route to the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.
But the Nez Perce Tribe’s work to halt the load is expected to continue today. Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Silas Whitman said Wednesday the tribe plans to file legal action this afternoon seeking to stop the load.
Approximately 100 protesters started Wednesday night gathered at Canoe Camp at Orofino along Highway 12 awaiting the arrival of the shipment. The oversized load began the evening just west of Pink House, with plans to move through Kamiah and end its third day of travel at Kooskia.
The protesters carried signs with messages such as “Idle no more, Nez Perce Tribe,” and “Megaloads not welcome.”
Protesters asked those present to be peaceful and not provide law enforcement reasons to arrest them. As the megaload neared Canoe Camp at Orofino, state troopers and tribal police warned the protesters to stay off the highway or risk being arrested. They largely followed those instructions.
At approximately 10:45 p.m., police moved their way between the protesters and the oversized load, allowing it to accelerate away. The protesters were unable to catch up and resume their efforts to slow the load’s progress.
Leotis McCormack, a Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee member and one of the Wednesday night protesters, expressed some disappointment about the group’s inability to slow the load’s progress.
He said the government provides for the tribe to be consulted on the movement of megaloads through its treaty lands and that hasn’t been done.
“We can’t sit back any longer. We can’t allow our people to be subject to that disrespect anymore.”
He questioned that if this is allowed to happen without consulting the tribe, what else might happen without consulting the tribe.
“If the door opens it is going to be hard to close,” he said, adding it’s about protecting sacred lands.
“Our action proves how passionate we are about what we are fighting for.”
The megaloads also attracted curious onlookers who positioned themselves across the road from the protesters at Canoe Camp.
Carrie Donovan of Orofino said she supports megaloads being allowed to use the highway and the jobs and commerce they create.
“It’s just wicked cool,” she said.
Kip Fry of Orofino said he also supports the megaloads, noting everyone has to drive a car or truck and the equipment hauled helps the oil industry develop that resource.
The megaload is carrying a 21-foot-wide, 23-foot-high, 255-foot-long, 644,000-pound evaporator that will help an oil company conserve water when it reaches its destination. The hauler is Omega Morgan, a company based in Hillsboro, Ore., which has indicated this is one of 10 oversized loads it wants to take across Idaho on the highway between now and the end of January.
This was the third consecutive night of protests against the megaload. Early Tuesday morning protesters blocked the shipment for nearly two hours just before it entered the Nez Perce Reservation.
Twenty people were arrested and are facing charges of disorderly conduct. Among them were eight members of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, including Whitman, Brooklyn Baptiste, McCormack, Daniel Kane, Joel Moffett, Anthony Johnson, Albert Barros and Sam Penney.
Late Tuesday night, protestors stopped the shipment for about 15 minutes then slowed it for hours more. Another 11 were arrested. They are Ciarra Greene, 24, of Lewiston; Greg Crowe, 38, Sally Rhoan, 19, Lucy Samuels, 23, Mary Ellenwood, 46, Paulette Smith, 43, Johnae Wasson, 25 and Ashton Picard, 21, all of Lapwai; Danita Burch, 20 of Winchester; Alicia Oatman, 35 of Kamiah; and one juvenile. Nine of the protesters are facing charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction. Another individual allegedly failed to obey a traffic-related order. Information about the juvenile was not disclosed.
The Idaho Transportation Department issued a permit for the megaload to travel in spite of federal Judge B. Lynn Winmill’s ruling earlier this year that the U.S. Forest Service has authority to review megaload shipments through the Wild and Scenic River Corridor that starts east of Kamiah.
The Forest Service announced Monday it is starting a study that will seek to identify and define the intrinsic values associated with the river corridor and the potential effects of the megaload shipments upon them. Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell said the agency would not support any megaload shipments through the corridor as the study is conducted without first consulting with the tribe. The agency and tribe are scheduled to begin consultation Aug. 20.
However, another hurdle was cleared Wednesday by the megaload’s hauler. The Montana Department of Transportation issued a permit allowing Omega Morgan to haul the large water purification unit through northwestern Montana and into Canada.
Duane Williams, administrator of Montana’s Motor Carrier Services Division, told The Associated Press that the $3,195 permit allows Omega Morgan to travel through Montana, beginning as early as today.
He said he hadn’t heard of any plans to protest the load’s movement in Montana.
The Omega Morgan load is scheduled to enter Montana on U.S. Highway 12 over Lolo Pass, travel through Missoula and cross over the Continental Divide at Roger’s Pass on Montana Highway 200. The loads will then travel north on U.S. Highway 87 through Choteau to Secondary 44 west of Valier. The loads will continue north through Cut Bank and enter Canada at the Port of Sweetgrass.