Crowds gather in Prairie, John Day, as protesters chain up
Police arrested 16 protesters on Monday night, after they tried to block the Omega Morgan megaload from traveling through John Day.
In two separate incidents, protesters chained themselves to vehicles on the route, but the efforts succeeded only in delaying the departure of the load.
Omega Morgan, the load’s Hillsboro-based hauler, had planned to depart the west edge of John Day at 8 pm, but left at about 9:30 – after police had cleared the highway.
The massive transport – 23 feet wide, 19 feet tall, and 380 feet long, including pusher and puller trucks – headed east on Highway 26 through downtown John Day and Prairie City. Traveling into the mountains, it was parked Tuesday morning at the Oregon Department of Transportation weigh station at Austin Junction. It was expected to move again on Tuesday night, but got special permission to travel in the daylight to avoid heavy frost over Eldorado Pass, east of Austin.
Destined for the tar sands region of Alberta, Canada, the load drew waves of spectators as it moved, and parked, its way through Grant County in the past week.
The cargo is a 96-foot-long vessel known as an evaporator, which uses steam to salvage water that otherwise would be lost in the tar sands extraction process. It was manufactured in Portland and barged to the Port of Umatilla for the road journey.
Protesters, concerned about climate change and damage to the environment, have been tracking the load, and they kept police busy on Monday night.
Officers from the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, John Day Police, and Oregon State Police responded first to a report of a disabled vehicle in front of Les Schwab Tire Center, on Main Street east of where the load was parked. There they found a car in the middle of the road, its tires flat and with one man inside and another on the ground outside.
Sheriff Glenn Palmer said the car had been modified so a chain could be run through holes in its floor. The two men were connected to each other by the chain, chicken wire, and duct tape, he said.
Police called for Jaws of Life extrication equipment to cut into the car to get the men out, as several other protesters videotaped the incident and displayed a banner reading “No Tar Sands on Native Land, No Consultation, No Passage.”
Five people were accused of disorderly conduct in connection with that incident.
Police then were called to the east limit of John Day, where protesters had placed a trailer in the center of Highway 26. Palmer said officers found two people chained to the trailer and a 55-gallon oil drum sealed with concrete.
Police apprehended ten adults and a 16-year-old girl on disorderly conduct charges at that scene.
All of the arrested adults were taken to the Grant County Jail; the girl was released to a friend of her family.
Law enforcement was assisted by the John Day Fire Department, John Day Ambulance, and the Mount Vernon and Prairie City Fire Departments.
The reception was less volatile in Prairie City, where crowds of curious residents watched the load move through without incident.
The transport is one of three oversized loads that the Hillsboro-based hauler plans to take over the eastern Oregon route this winter.
However, the load has been hampered by icy roads and steep, curving stretches of highway since leaving Umatilla on December 2.
The load’s arrival in John Day culminated a slow weekend journey from Dale, in northern Grant County. With snow beginning to fall, the load left Dale last Thursday night, was stopped by icy conditions a few miles south on Highway 395, and then continued on Saturday night to a spot about 11 miles north of Mount Vernon.
County Judge Scott Myers was among the sightseers checking out the rig in daylight on Sunday afternoon near Beech Creek.
“It was just a steady stream of traffic,” he said.
That night, the load moved south, negotiated a tight, right turn at Mount Vernon, reversed course on nearby private land, and headed east on Highway 26. The turn-about was scheduled after the hauler determined that the load couldn’t negotiate a left turn onto the highway in Mount Vernon.
“We have to turn right to go left,” Omega Morgan project manager Erik Zander explained earlier.
The slow pace in recent days was a little disappointing for organizers of the Timber Truckers Light Parade, the annual event held on Saturday night in John Day.
Parade organizer Leslie Traylor called Omega Morgan last week to invite the load to participate – “I said they could just follow us through town.”
She said company officials were excited about the idea, although a parade entry was unlikely due to the permit’s travel time restrictions and safety factors. The weather delays put the parade out of reach.
Meanwhile, Trip Jennings of the Rising Tide climate activist group, said protesters will continue to monitor Omega Morgan’s plans for more loads in Oregon.
“The big fear here is that they are trying to turn it into a heavy haul route,” he said. He said protesters will continue to raise concerns with the next two loads.
“I can’t say it will be an exact repeat, but we plan to be engaged in stopping all of these loads,” he said.
(By Scotta Callister, Blue Mountain Eagle)