State highway signs tell travelers that Idaho is too great to litter.
But apparently not all users – or managers – of Idaho roadways have gotten the message.
In a roadside pullout north of Salmon that drains to the North Fork of the Salmon River, a giant rig loaded with oil field equipment bound for the tar sands of Canada sat for two weeks. After it was gone, several locals and environmentalists raised concerns about what was left behind.
The megaload got moving again with some help from the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), which applied 1,000 gallons of de-icer on ice at the pullout, to help get the load moving again.
News of the state’s use of de-icer along a stream with designated critical habitat for threatened fish, such as Chinook salmon, surfaced earlier this week after the megaload, hauled by Oregon shipper Omega Morgan, crossed Lost Trail Pass and entered Montana.
The 901,000-pound load of General Electric equipment had been parked in a pullout on U.S. Highway 93 North near Gibbonsville, waiting for proper permits and cooperative weather on the last leg of a weeks-long journey through Idaho that saw it cut through such cities as Arco, Leadore, and Salmon.
An inspection of the pullout in Lemhi County on Tuesday, where the outsized rig had rested from January 5 to 19, showed patches of ice and snow stained blue by an unknown substance, a load of sand, several piles of human waste, and shop rags smeared with what appeared to be feces.
Kevin Lewis, conservation director for Idaho Rivers United, said apparent practices at the pullout raised questions about the state highway department and Omega Morgan.
“These are sloppy, inappropriate things to be doing next to a creek,” he said. “ITD should know better, and their permit-holder should know better. This is not how we treat our rivers and streams and not the way we should treat Idaho.”
ITD spokesman Adam Rush confirmed after checking with local highway officials that 1,000 gallons of de-icer was applied at the pullout.
“They let me know that nearly 1,000 gallons of salt brine was applied to one of the Omega Morgan equipment shipments, after snow and ice accumulated in the pullout,” he said in an email.
Asked about the possible runoff of the de-icer into a river prized for its fish, including bull trout and steelhead, Rush said it posed no harm.
“There won’t be environmental impacts or other impacts,” he said.
He said there were no additives or dyes in the de-icer, leaving no clues as to what had left some snow stained blue.
State and federal regulators said they received reports on Tuesday about an apparent chemical spill or dump at the pullout, but wouldn’t confirm whether the matter was under formal review.
On Wednesday, the site was bulldozed by ITD crews as part of “routine maintenance,” Rush said. The treated snow and ice, as well as a load of sand and other debris, were pushed off the pullout and onto a steep bank of the North Fork of the Salmon River.
On Thursday, Rush retracted his statement that 1,000 gallons of de-icer was applied to the pullout, and said the mixture was applied along 55 miles of roadway, as well as the pullout. He estimated that 20 gallons were applied at the Omega Morgan parking site.
That conflicts with accounts by other ITD officials about the amount of de-icer used and why it was necessary.
Jeff Eagle, maintenance foreman for the ITD office in Salmon, said the 1,000 gallons were applied at the pullout, because Omega Morgan damaged one of three trucks that move the load, after failing to gain traction.
“The trucks kept spinning on the ice; it tore up a truck,” he said. “It was probably 1,000 gallons we put down there. It’s a long turnout, so it takes quite a bit.”
Omega Morgan spokeswoman Holly Zander said the company did not use any de-icer or sand at the pullout, but “simply waited the weather out until the roads were clear enough that we were able to continue our travels safely in accordance with our permit.”
Asked about the piles of human waste, ITD’s Rush said they may not have been tied to the megaload’s layover. Zander said the piles were not related to Omega Morgan workers.
“This is absolutely, without any doubt, not the result of our crew. Behavior of that sort is not only disgusting but highly unprofessional,” she said. “There has been a very high interest in this move, and we’ve attracted some onlookers while we are parked on the side of the road, and in this case, it was for many days.”
Idaho did not require a bond for the super-sized shipment, one of two that crossed into Montana in recent days. The transportation department has not required a spill-prevention plan for the megaload, and no permits were issued for any chemical or hazardous releases, officials said.
(By Laura Zuckerman, Post Register)