On Tuesday, February 11, 2014, Peo Peo Mox Mox Chief Yellowbird and Headman of the Walla Walla Tribe, Carl Sampson, and Peter Goodman, representing Act On Climate, filed a lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court, a day after dozens of supporters gathered outside. Their case requests a court review of a permit issued by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) for Omega Morgan to haul a third tar sands mining equipment megaload on eastern Oregon scenic highways passing through tribal lands.
Their “Petition for Review of Agency Decision” asserts that ODOT failed to meet its legal obligations to determine whether “the public interests will be served” before it granted the permit on Thursday, February 6, 2014. Federal and state laws mandate prior state government consultation with tribal governments, and Oregon statutes require ODOT determination of public interests, before issuing megaload variance permits. The plaintiffs do not believe that ODOT is following state laws restricting such permitting to reflect public interests, unless the department first provides formal opportunities for the public to comment.
“And now here we are in the middle of winter, with no formal notification, no tribal consultation, no information to our tribal members at our monthly council meetings, let alone our elected officials of the Board of Trustees or General Council, that not one, but three, monster megaloads are coming onto our ceded boundary lands,” said Chief Yellowbird, Carl Sampson. “How can this be? How can the trust of government-to-government relations that has been built over decades simply be ignored? Help me to understand.”
To bring public opinions opposing megaloads to ODOT’s attention, Goodman and Sampson requested “party status” as members of the public, which ODOT denied. This refusal and the lack of any process for public comments prevented public input before ODOT megaload permit issuance. Under current practices, ODOT only considers comments from the permit applicant and not from the Oregon public at large, whom it considers irrelevant parties.
Sampson and Goodman have continuously stated their position that these megaloads are not ordinary vehicles that ODOT can permit using routine practices established for normal oversize loads. They emphasize that these extraordinarily large industrial loads – longer than a football field and weighing up to 901,000 pounds – cause substantial harm to Oregon citizens and thus are not in the public interest. At the very least, they argue, ODOT should not be making associated unilateral decisions without processes for hearing public comments about whether these megaloads are in the “public interests.”
“We are dedicated to stopping the megaloads in Oregon, before they reach their destinations at Alberta tar sands mining operations, “explained Peter Goodman of the climate change resisting group Act On Climate. “Megaloads are not just another oversize industrial cargo. They are the tools needed to contribute to the dirtiest industrial energy project in the world. Either we rise to the occasion of megaload threats before us, or we participate, albeit passively, in our own extinction.”
“Help me explain this situation to my people, my children, and my grandchildren, who love the land, mountains, and waterways to which we have a sacred connection since time immemorial,” asked Chief Yellowbird of the Confederated Umatilla Tribes. “Help me understand why we, the people of this land, have not had a voice in such an important matter. Why did the Oregon Department of Transportation allow a variance permit of such magnitude and impacts on our sovereign and inherent treaty rights, allowing interruption into our ceremonial, cultural, social, and spiritual homelands, without regard to their significance to our people?”
Networking with a growing number of tar sands and megaload opposition groups, including tribal nations and environmental organizations, Act On Climate is working to alert the public to the importance and consequences of state actions taken on behalf of citizens, without any process for prior public input.
In this spirit of solidarity, the group hosted a demonstration called Salem Stop the Megaloads Rally and Court Filing at the Marion County Courthouse. Dozens of protesters assembled on the courthouse steps on High Street in Salem, Oregon, between 10:00 and 10:30 am on Monday, February 10. Holding signs and dressed warmly against cold and rainy weather, participants stood in support of Act On Climate and tribal allies, as they filed their petition in Marion County Circuit Court.
Act On Climate urges the public to send their mailed or emailed public comments and concerns opposing megaloads directly to Oregon Governor Kitzhaber and state legislators or to the ActOnClimate.net website, for delivery to ODOT. The activist group is collecting copies and posts of all such letters on their website or via email@example.com, to assist its court review. Pending legal actions, ODOT has invoked court rules requiring Act On Climate to convey all of its gathered public comments to ODOT through the agency’s attorneys. For more information, see the linked legal documents and/or contact Walla Walla Tribe and Act on Climate allies:
Carl Sampson 541-240-1832 firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Goodman 541-981-2882 email@example.com
Jim Powers 541-829-2114 firstname.lastname@example.org ActOnClimate.net
(Photos and videos available upon request)