Three protesters arrested on Sunday and Monday
Protesters opposing the transportation of oil refinery equipment to Canada gained momentum Sunday night and then lost ground Monday night, as the megaload departed from the Port of Umatilla and inched its way through Hermiston.
Three protesters attempting to block progress of the nearly 400-foot-long rig bound for tar sand sites in Alberta, Canada, were arrested on Sunday and Monday nights. Approximately 40 demonstrators gathered on Sunday to protest the movement of megaloads through Oregon. Kayla Godowa-Tufti of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs said she came to the site because tribal rights were being violated.
“This permit was granted without a government-to-government consultation as required by law,” Godowa-Tufti said. “The State of Oregon and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is required by law to consult with tribes. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have not been consulted. These things threaten areas that are dear to us. We don’t want this to be a permanent highway for these things.”
After being delayed twice before, the megaload, carried by heavy-haul specialists Omega Morgan of Hillsboro, was scheduled to depart on Sunday night between the hours of 8 pm and 6 am, according to the permit granted by ODOT. As the truck hauling the megaload prepared to depart around 10 pm, the crowd of protesters surged forward toward law enforcement officers. The group huddled together, chanting “We don’t want your megaloads,” before being asked by law enforcement to move off the property. The group acquiesced to that request before resuming their former position on the road. Whether the timing was intentional or not, the surge forward gave two protesters time to lock themselves to the truck.
With his arms wrapped around a ladder on the side of the truck and enclosed within a steel pipe, Leonard Higgins spoke to the Hermiston Herald, while law enforcement decided how to remove Higgins and another protester, who had locked himself to the undercarriage of the vehicle.
“I’m prepared to be here all night and for several days if necessary,” Higgins said. “My arms are encased in steel and fastened by the wrists. I’m locked to part of the truck. I’m expecting to be pretty uncomfortable as the night progresses. I’ve done this for my children. Climate change is a threat to all of us. The people are going to have to rise up and stop this.”
Higgins remained locked to the truck for approximately an hour and a half, while law enforcement and Omega Morgan employees worked to remove his arms from the L-shaped steel tube. Higgins was eventually removed, arrested, and charged with disorderly conduct. The other protester, Arnold George Schroder, locked himself behind the right front tire of the truck. Schroder remained locked around what appeared to be the axle of the vehicle and was removed approximately 30 minutes after Higgins. Schroder, too, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
Because of the length of time needed to remove the two demonstrators, the load was prevented from departing. According to the permit granted by ODOT, the rig needed to make the first checkpoint near Pendleton by 6 am. Omega Morgan representatives decided to delay the departure until Monday night, and protesters celebrated the delay as a victory.
The triumph was short-lived, as on Monday, the rig began to move. At approximately 7:45 pm, 15 minutes prior to the specified departure time, which protesters claimed violated the ODOT permit, the Omega Morgan truck started to move. Again, demonstrators tried to block the rig’s departure, and all but one person heeded officers’ warnings to move back.
Cathy Sampson-Kruse dropped to the ground in front of the truck and ignored orders to move by law enforcement. Officers warned Sampson-Kruse if she didn’t move she would be arrested. Sampson-Kruse ignored the warning and was picked up by an Oregon state trooper and an Umatilla Sheriff’s Office deputy and carried away to a patrol car, where she was handcuffed and arrested for disorderly conduct. Sampson-Kruse said she decided to act because she claimed the transportation of the megaload through tribal lands without proper consultation constituted a violation of the law.
“I stand here today to support my people and my children,” Sampson-Kruse said. “We have to stop this now. We have to carry this message forward.”
As protesters were moved away from the scene, the rig slowly inched forward, making its way toward Highway 730. Protesters followed alongside the enormous structure chanting, while law enforcement remained in between them and the rig at all times. Minor pushing and shoving broke out between law enforcement and demonstrators, as the rig pulled out onto Highway 730, but nobody was arrested.
With traffic backed up behind it on Highway 730, the rig turned onto Highway 395 before proceeding through Hermiston. The megaload nearly snagged utility wires strung across the road near downtown Hermiston, but managed to proceed without causing any damage or suffering any delays. The rig proceeded without further incident and reached the first checkpoint just outside of Pendleton, where it was again delayed this time by weather.
Omega Morgan spokesperson Holly Zander said the delay caused by the protesters did not affect the megaload schedule.
Zander said in a prepared statement that the company did not plan to press charges against the people who locked themselves to the rig. The megaload will continue to travel through Oregon before crossing over into Idaho, Montana, and eventually Alberta, Canada.
(By Colin Murphey, The Hermiston Herald)