As shippers’ preferred Highway 12 route is fought in court, underpasses trim trips north.
As yet another legal battle mounts against permitting oversized loads to be transported along the Wild and Scenic River Corridor on U.S. Highway 12, concerns vary as to whether U.S. Highway 95 could again be tapped as the next viable shipping option.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill will preside over a court hearing on August 27 to decide if an emergency injunction should be issued, requiring the U.S. Forest Service to enforce its standards for megaload shipments through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.
The lawsuit was filed by the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United following several days of protests of an Omega Morgan evaporator shipment bound for the tar sands in Alberta, Canada.
If the Forest Service is ordered to enforce its jurisdiction over megaloads that it perceives as hazardous to the national forest and river corridor, such shipments may be halted or forced to go elsewhere.
Doral Hoff, district operations manager for the Idaho Transportation Department in Lewiston, said it isn’t likely Omega Morgan will seek permits to move any more evaporators up U.S. Highway 95 if Highway 12 is closed off.
“It’s pretty much the height of the load, because that’s the issue for 95,” he said, adding such clearance issues don’t exist on Highway 12. “High loads can still go up 95, it’s just some of these are 20 feet high.”
Underpasses on Highway 95 and Interstate 90, which could be taken to reach Montana and then Canada, have a height clearance of 14 feet.
Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil had to halve a number of its megaload shipments to haul them up U.S. Highway 95 in 2011, and was met with regular, vocal opposition from local environmental activists as the loads rolled through Moscow at night.
“The integrity of the (evaporator) loads would be compromised if they cut them down,” said Helen Yost with Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT), which protested Imperial Oil transports two years ago and continues to fight other shipments to the tar sands over environmental concerns.
As for Highway 95 megaloads, she said, “We haven’t found any cause for alarm recently.”
Hoff said ITD in Lewiston has not received any permit requests for “supersized” load shipments on U.S. Highway 95 for some time.
While Omega Morgan’s evaporator shipments can’t come up Highway 95, Yost said WIRT and other like-minded groups are certain the highway is still viable for similar shipments bound for Canada. It will be an even more viable option in the future as ITD continues efforts to widen the highway. Should the time come, she said activists will be ready.
“We’re just infinitely grateful that the Nez Perce Tribe has taken to the streets like we did for so long in Moscow,” Yost said. “It shows strong regional solidarity against these tar sands.”
Though the Idaho Transportation Department disregarded the Forest Service’s objections to issuing Omega Morgan a permit for its evaporator, Dan Carscallen, secretary for the North Latah Highway District and Moscow city councilor, said he’s not worried about that happening here in Latah County.
Last session, Idaho legislators passed rules allowing 129,000-pound truck routes on the state highway system as of July 1, and another bill passed allowing for additional routes to be designated by ITD and local highway agencies.
“They leave it to the local jurisdiction, and it would be a case-by-case deal,” Carscallen said. “The (highway) commissioners still have the power to allow/disallow anything. The last thing I can recall that the highway district had was they had to go over on East Palouse River Drive with some of that equipment out there for the new (Avista) substation across from the Elks (Club).”
He said he feels ITD has jurisdiction over Highway 12, “but that’s for some judge to decide.” Carscallen added he also isn’t concerned about more megaloads coming through Moscow.
“If they tear up the streets of Moscow along the routes, that’s ITD’s problem, and ITD has to fix it.”
The transportation department is seeking statewide comments regarding its new proposed administrative rules for the truck routes. The closest [public hearing] will be held from 4 to 7 pm on October 9 at the Red Lion Hotel in Lewiston.
(By Brandon Macz, staff writer, The Moscow-Pullman Daily News)