Scotta Callister, John Day, Oregon
Blue Mountain Eagle 11/25/13
When it comes to the idea of megaloads rolling through Grant County, residents have been far from united. The reactions were all over the map after Omega Morgan’s plan to make night runs through the county en route to Idaho and Montana, with huge equipment destined for the tar sands of Canada, was revealed earlier this month.
Some folks are getting out the lawn chairs and video cameras to watch the first big rig roll through. Others see the transport as the symbol of corporate greed and America’s overuse of natural resources; protests are possible. In the middle are a lot of folks who are just plain bemused and baffled by the fuss.
We come by this mixed state naturally – In part, it’s the product of too little information, too hastily purveyed. The public deserved a little more time to digest the plans and consider the ramifications.
A public meeting, pulled together by the county judge last week, elicited some information from an Omega Morgan project manager, but it didn’t answer all the concerns, and in the end, it had no effect on whether or when the first superload would begin its move.
Unfortunately, the state department of transportation, although it has the key role in permitting this situation, had no representative at the meeting, because they didn’t hear about it in time. As a result, folks here in Grant County were left with a lot of questions that the agency might have addressed before the megaload went into high gear.
Aside from the meeting, ODOT [the Oregon Department of Transportation] could have taken a stronger role in informing the public earlier. Public outreach is not a foreign mission for the department, which routinely issues releases about roadwork weeks, even months, in advance. This should be no different, even if the project in question is being promoted by private interests with deep pockets.
Granted, some of our questions may take a crystal ball to answer. Among them is whether this week’s load – really, a series of three loads – could be the precursor to a “megaload corridor.” And if so, what would that mean for local traffic, emergency services, bridge and highway conditions, and more?
Omega Morgan’s representative deflected the corridor question at Monday’s meeting, saying right now the company has three loads to move, period. Yet it’s probable the establishment of Idaho’s megaload corridor also began with a single load, then two, and three, so the question isn’t an unreasonable one.
As the loads begin to move, we hope ODOT and our state legislators are looking at such questions and also at the Idaho experience, from both operational and budgetary perspectives, to anticipate future costs and issues. We also encourage clearer communication with the public when such proposals arise.