Third Omega Morgan Megaload Southern Idaho Report

Missing Oregon/Idaho Megaload

In response to the Idaho Transportation Department’s (ITD) atypical early warning on Friday, February 14, that an Omega Morgan tar sands megaload would cross into Idaho during the ensuing, usual dearth of weekend media information, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) reluctantly composed a call-to-action for southern Idaho on February 16 [1].  We remembered the last time that WIRT proclaimed that this could be the “last chance” to protest megaloads on a certain route, in that last case, Highway 12, as the first Omega Morgan shipments rolled in October and December 2012.  WIRT and allies assumed that Idaho Rivers United would win their federal court case during the following February, which they did.  But Omega Morgan nonetheless tried to access Highway 12 again in August 2013, and the world knows what happened next.  Of the eight to ten loads that the hauling company originally proposed for Highway 12 since last summer, one entire load crossed Highway 12, another traversed Highway 95 in five parts during October and November 2013, and three core pieces have launched from Oregon.  WIRT is wondering where the other three to five Omega Morgan shipments went.  Do the three latest transports really signal the conclusion of eastern Oregon/southern Idaho route use, or will tar sands infrastructure haulers keep coming, not to mention through the Highway 95 sacrifice zone?  Although we understand the difficulty in turning from the dead-end, destructive, fossil-fuel path that currently careens the world into climate chaos, we are amazed at how much money corporations keep investing in these ridiculous megaload maneuvers, as activists work to correct their course.

WIRT received news on Monday, February 17, that the third Omega Morgan tar sands megaload originating at the Port of Umatilla was still in Oregon [2].  We suspected that our press release on the previous day nudged the regional media into keeping citizens informed about this issue.  But during its emergence from a media blackout, the transport left John Day and traveled during daylight hours, to avoid possible night-time ice and fog over Eldorado Pass.  As during Oregon passage of the first two Omega Morgan megaloads, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) again allowed the heavy hauler to change its permit and thus compromise the safety and convenience of daytime travelers without advance notice [3].  To accommodate Big Oil profits, state governments apparently work for the corporations or higher government, not the people.  WIRT and allies once more encouraged Oregonians to call or email ODOT director Matthew Garrett in politely forceful protest of this policy, based on information provided by All Against the Haul, a partner group that has mobilized Montanans and helped Act on Climate initiate the Oregon lawsuit against megaloads [4].

On the same day, February 17, the Mountain Home News declared that the third shipment, using the same route and schedule as previous loads, could pass through its city in Elmore County on either Tuesday or Wednesday nights that week, depending on how fast it moved after entering southern Idaho [5].  But protesters did not anticipate the megaload arriving in Idaho until these nights, particularly if weather and road conditions slowed it down.  While constantly and tentatively updating our event announcement and postponing the schedule of the first, soonest possible demonstration in Marsing among successive Idaho protests, WIRT experienced difficulty locating the Omega Morgan transport, likely still in eastern Oregon.  We contacted a Boise news agency that said the megaload was last reported in Vale, Oregon, but neither Vale nor Marsing area businesses had seen it yet.  Finally, on Wednesday, February 19, a Wood River Valley newspaper reported that:

The megaload…was parked Tuesday afternoon alongside U.S. Highway 26, about 23 miles southeast of Unity, Oregon, and about 45 miles northwest of Vale, Oregon…  Wild Idaho Rising Tide and other environmental groups have staged numerous protests, including at Timmerman Junction, as the megaloads travel toward Athabasca.  The organization announced in its news release that a protest is planned for Timmerman Junction when the third megaload passes through…  The organization and other environmental groups claim they oppose the shipments because of the potential for road and bridge damage and because the Athabasca tar sands operation causes irreversible environmental damage, leads to large emissions of greenhouse gases, pollutes both ground and surface water, ruins wetlands for numerous species of migrating waterfowl, and violates treaty agreements with Indian tribes in both the U.S. and Canada [6].

Growing Eastern Oregon/Southern Idaho Resistance

On February 19, as the tar sands megaload convoy approached the contested county road, Clark Boulevard, and the prohibited Nyssa city streets in eastern Oregon, WIRT sent a long overdue message to the Argus Observer editorial board in Ontario, Oregon, the Nyssa city manager and councilors, and other concerned citizens [7].  We extended our gratitude for their “recent expressions of concern about possible road damages and jurisdictional discrepancies imposed on eastern Oregonians by permitting and passage of three Omega Morgan-hauled ‘megaloads,’” and offered our “solidarity with their positions on this issue” and support of their “endeavors to inform and protect [their] communities from corporate abuses of public infrastructure and shared climate.”  WIRT also circulated a second, duplicate media release about impending southern Idaho megaload protests and alerted an eastern Oregon newspaper of the nearby transport.  This outreach instigated on-the-scene coverage of  megaload movement that night, as the load “headed east on Highway 20-26 to Clark Boulevard, where it turned south to connect with state Highway 201 spur, and then traveled into Idaho reaching Marsing” [8].  The article noted that Omega Morgan utilized “the same trailer that was used on the first load,” and that, “Unlike the first two convoys, there were three pusher trucks on this one, to get it over the passes.”

Throughout the week, WIRT continued to call on Boise area, Wood River Valley, and southern Idaho comrades to rise up against the upstream source of potential Keystone XL pipeline oil in their collective backyard, to scout the megaload’s progress, and to populate the front lines of resistance to tar sands mining, in Marsing, Mountain Home, Timmerman Junction, Arco, and Salmon, Idaho, and in Missoula, Montana.  We provided a letter-sized, color, PDF version of the megaload protests flyer, available on the WIRT website for profuse printing and posting, and a map describing the locations of Omega Morgan’s Idaho megaload route and usual parking spots from Marsing to Lost Trail Pass [9].  The Boise Weekly ran an online Friday story stating that, “The environmental activist group Wild Idaho Rising Tide has already announced a series of protests to greet the mega-load” [10].

As battles ebbed and flowed against various dirty energy transportation corridors and terminals, colleagues in contact with newcomers to the megaload conflict said that WIRT’s efforts and truth motivated the awakening Boise population.  WIRT has led a determined struggle to convince southern Idahoans that they can shake the power structures that are starting to panic.  Even while Nature raged against megaloads, much better than Idaho activists ever could, volunteers failed to meet other protest participants at the Boise convergence point for carpools on both Friday and Saturday nights, February 21 and 22, for respective Marsing and Mountain Home protests.  So WIRT set our sights on opportunities and logistics to strongly confront tar sands infrastructure in eastern Idaho, where ITD plowed human waste, debris, sand, and snow and ice tainted with gallons of de-icer left in an Omega Morgan pullout onto a steep bank of the North Fork of the Salmon River [11].  Only a few weeks earlier, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes released a statement denouncing the lack of tribal consultation before ITD megaload permitting and passage and expressing deep concerns about possible adverse megaload effects or accidents near the rivers and tributaries of their aboriginal homelands, where they practice treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather [12].  Whether the tribes will insist on “full and complete mitigation of any damages or incidents that may impact the environment in the shipping corridors” remains to be seen.  To further assist eastern Idaho megaload protesting and monitoring activities, a Portland activist flew into the Salt Lake City airport on Friday evening, February 21, and offered to drive Utah and Pocatello tar sands activists to Idaho Falls and beyond.  Rising Tide members greatly appreciate the gracious hospitality and temporary headquarters that our wonderful Wood River Valley and Idaho Falls friends provided over the course of a week.

Five Megaload Protests in Two Nights

On Friday night, February 21-22, activists successfully held the first ever tar sands megaload protest in Hammett, Idaho, and a second demonstration since January 6 in Mountain View, obtaining photos and videos of the Omega Morgan-hauled transport running off the pavement in both locations [13, 14].  Like the first of three shipments originating at the Port of Umatilla, Oregon, ‘Mighty Matt,’ served as the lead pull-truck of the third Omega Morgan megaload, the same vehicle to which two brave Oregon comrades famously locked themselves and delayed transport departure by one night on December 1, 2013.  At the Hammett intersection of Idaho Highway 78, old U.S Highway 30, and Hammett Hill Road, as its driver cleared a sharp S-turn and encountered a roadside protester staring down his headlights, he waved and shouted out the semi-truck window at the WIRT activist: “You are like my biggest fan.  You’re everywhere I go!” [15, at 10:47 in the video]  Departing the crowd of a few dozen local observers, one protester and one independent media reporter, both doubling as monitors gathering damning evidence, followed the multiple vehicles in the megaload convoy with flashing, glaring lights to the nearby Interstate 84 Exit 112, where they documented the transport entering the highway on an off-ramp and moving west in the two eastbound lanes for a quarter-mile.  While parked on the nearby roadside, they also viewed and videotaped the 794,000-pound load precariously crossing over to the I-84 westbound lanes, through an emergency turnaround in the median [16].  On its way to Mountain Home, the convoy let other vehicles pass too closely to the megaload traveling slowly on Interstate 84 [17].

The industrial parade drew a similarly sparse convergence of onlookers behind the chain link fence of the Pilot Travel Center, as the 382-feet-long, 23-feet-wide, 19-feet-tall behemoth barely squeezed around the Interstate 84 Exit 95 off-ramp turn onto U.S. Highway 20 in Mountain Home [14].  The accompanying pilot and flagger vehicles and a dozen or more Idaho state, Elmore County, and Mountain Home police cruisers clogged the intersections and access areas in and around the truck stop.  Again, just a few protesters crowded the cumbersome transport struggling around the corner and up the gradual incline toward Bennett Mountain on six miles of the Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway.  As the convoy lumbered into the adjacent high country and police dispersed, monitors followed and recorded its movements [18].  The procession unsafely re-routed trailing traffic around the moving megaload once more, to purportedly limit delays to only 15 minutes, although its permit only considers the full stops of other vehicles as delays, not their slowed speeds.

After passing the transport at around 2:15 am, monitors noticed several support vehicles parked in pairs ahead of the course of the megaload.  Immediately after its usual parking spot, roads were visibly less maintained by the private contractors that Omega Morgan hired to clear them, with drifting snow covering the surface of the otherwise dry roadway ahead of the transport.  At about 3:30 am on Saturday, February 22, convoy personnel turned off all lights and motors and abandoned the tar sands transport at the Gold Mine historical marker between U.S. Highway 20 mileposts 126 and 127.  One pickup truck guarded the megaload and Mighty Matt at that pullout, while the push trucks sat unwatched at the Pine-Featherville Road intersection, across from the highway department equipment and materials site, about two miles away and all 50 miles west of the Saturday night protest at Timmerman Junction.

After too little and belated sleep, plenty of campaign disclaimers became apparent on Saturday afternoon, despite a productive night of protesting and monitoring efforts.  Convoy workers behaved too nicely, and dangerously allowed supporting and opposing gawkers to approach the transport too closely.  The few megaload protesters traveling and risking arrest the most encountered limited access to local communities, internet connections, and basic resources, thus impacting information distribution abilities, sleep, energy, and funds, etc.  Conversely, the perpetrators of this megaload madness killing the world apparently enjoy a surplus of labor and capital.  Although we are growing as a movement, we could do so much better in stopping this onslaught and forcing its minions to find other life-sustaining work developing clean, alternative energy.  Until then, megaload movers will gain even more familiarity with the activists who can foresee nothing but wrong in their endeavors.

On the following evening, February 22-23, southern and northern Idaho and Oregon women staged three Saturday night protests of Alberta tar sands mining infrastructure using a scenic byway through a national monument to ultimately extract extreme energy [19].  Meeting at 10 pm at the Timmerman Junction rest area, near the junction of U.S. Highway 20 and Idaho Highway 75 within the Wood River/“Sun” Valley, megaload protesters averted typically cold and windy circumstances during the few hours waiting for the convoy to arrive at around midnight.  Most of the local resistance waved signs and stood under street lights along Highway 20, when the load approached.  But two courageous protesters stood in the road against the onrushing, almost 800,000-pound, Omega Morgan monster, waving and hesitantly stepping aside when the tar sands megaload honked, slowed down, and passed nearby [20].  State police who had earlier talked with the crowd never left their vehicles, as two generations of women reminded the Mighty Matt pull-truck driver that WIRT activists and allies are not his “biggest fan,” as he stated in Hammett on Friday night.

Intent on another protest in the ample ambient light of Carey, Idaho, only 18 miles east, three carloads of megaload opponents drove quickly on back roads to circumvent the road-blocking convoy, pass it, and set up another demonstration of citizen dissent against the national fossil fuel agenda.  However, the convoy sped past, as we reached the reconnecting Highway 20 intersection.  After following the flashing-lights fiasco for several miles on the Peaks to Craters Byway, the longest scenic byway in Idaho at 140 miles, a state trooper inexplicably parked his car in the middle of the thoroughfare and asked the drivers of our three trailing vehicles if we were experiencing an emergency and if the megaload could delay our travel for 15 or more minutes [21, 22].  We warned the officer against such an impediment and eventually, riskily overtook the convoy on the way to Carey, where no protest occurred.  But state police nonetheless pulled over behind us, when we stopped to regroup in town, and briefly detained and requested the identification of one of the opposition drivers, when we resumed travel.

Within the 24 miles that U.S. Highway 20/26 snakes through Craters of the Moon National Monument, tar sands megaload protesters confronted the convoy again [23].  Under fresh, starlit skies and surrounded by otherwise quiet, dark, roadside wilderness study areas and a core 43,000-acre wilderness, one of the first designated in the national park system, we vigilantly waited for the flashing lights, diesel fumes, and noisy engines to break the cold silence.  To further expose megaload misuse of a national ecological treasure, we illuminated a monument road sign and our protest pickets with the headlights of three vehicles parked on a gated, dirt, back road.  The tar sands mining equipment weighing almost a million pounds rumbled within a few feet of fragile lava formations, as it swiftly drove past our brief protest.

In Arco, Idaho, a few megaload protesters converged in the street and on the corner of U.S Highways 20/26 and 93, to gather photos and videos of direct resistance of the interloper, as it stopped and then crawled through the primary T intersection.  A state police officer stood near the transport and its three opponents and noted that snow in the Salmon, Idaho, area would probably delay its movement north on the next night.  After the convoy continued east on Highway 20/26, the protesters viewed historic downtown buildings and posed in front of the unique, stone-covered, city office building.  Following the convoy, megaload monitors observed its multiple vehicles pulling into the former weigh station at the junction of Highways 20/26 and 33, to park for the day east of Butte City, Idaho, at about 3:30 am on Sunday morning, February 23.

Stranded & Restarted Megaload

Thanks to the strongest megaload blockaders – winter storms, heavy snow, and difficult driving circumstances – and according to several sources, the third Omega Morgan tar sands transport to traverse eastern Oregon and southern Idaho has remained stopped near Butte City since Sunday night, February 23.  Monday, March 3, marked the one-hundredth day since Omega Morgan first intended to depart the Port of Umatilla, Oregon, on Sunday, November 24, with its first of three tar sands shipments.  On its first possible night of movement after Idaho protests, February 23, a winter storm warning and avalanche risks closed the previous Highway 12 megaload haunt between Lowell and Powell, Idaho, currently blocked by a temporary federal injunction necessitating Omega Morgan’s detour over similarly treacherous Lost Trail Pass.  Over the following week, the transport was not expected to budge for a while, as down-road Montana endured some record-setting harsh weather for at least the second time in a month.  Although WIRT never claimed that this gargantuan tar sands invasion was sensible, Omega Morgan would be crazy to head into such a wall of winter, to reach its northern Alberta destination.

Perhaps due to prolonged snowpack and ice around the 7,000-plus-feet-high elevations of Gilmore Summit and Lost Trail Pass and the possibility of another, subsequent, pullout and river pollution snafu, transporters appear to be waiting for three consecutive nights of favorable weather and road conditions, to move into Montana.  Once the stranded megaload finally re-starts its journey, it would travel northeast on Idaho Highway 33, then northwest through the Lemhi Valley on Idaho Highway 28, transforming the beautiful, federally designated 105 miles of the Sacajawea Historic Byway and two miles of the Lewis and Clark Backcountry Byway into an industrial corridor for dirty energy extraction and transportation [24].  From six miles south of Salmon, Idaho, where the transport parks next to the Salmon River, it would cross and risk a few older, decrepit bridges during harsh, brittle, winter conditions at Salmon and Carmen, then pummel 46 uphill miles of the Salmon River Scenic Byway on U.S. Highway 93.  From another location besides its infamously trashed parking spot ten miles below Lost Trail Pass, the convoy would cross the state border to stop for the day south of Darby, Montana.  After a trip down the Bitterroot Valley to Lolo, the third Omega Morgan transport would pass through Missoula to Bonner, where workers would reconfigure its trailer for Canadian highways.  But it could face a similar fate as the first megaload, still languishing in Bonner while awaiting a smaller trailer, perhaps the second load’s leased Emmert trailer returning from Fort McMurray [25].  And although heavy hauling companies prefer the better weight-bearing, frozen ground and minimal traffic of winter routes, spring thaw will impose additional challenges, such as avalanches, rock slides, and flash floods.  Omega Morgan does not run the smoothest, fastest, or cheapest operation, in case it is trying to impress customers or permitters.

After two nights of five protests and three nights of megaload non-movement, a Wild Idaho Rising Tide activist videotaped the transport in daylight and optimal weather conditions near Butte City, during a return trip to Boise on Wednesday morning, February 26 [26].  An in-person conversation with sympathetic Craters of the Moon National Monument staff shared megaload objections.  A National Park Service employee said that the Idaho Transportation Department never notified or asked the monument about oversize equipment using Highway 20/26, where numerous triple semi-trailers laden with hay travel westward and exacerbate frost heaves in the road surface.  Non-human park residents suffer most from this traffic that impedes their movements and risks their demise.  This staffer expressed concerns about escalating megaload traffic, especially during warmer tourism and recreation seasons, when the mammoth rigs would significantly impact park visitor opportunities for wilderness solitude, with increased noise, air, and light pollution deep in remote monument areas.  Observations of the park landscape and maps revealed that northern mountainous shoulders beneath Highway 20/26 elevate it above the wide, open, lava flows spilling south toward the Snake River Plain, causing roadway sounds, emissions, and lights to carry great distances.  In many places along the 24-mile highway-monument interface, park service land and wilderness study areas, managed for the same characteristics as wilderness in anticipation of future Congressional designation as such, border both sides of the road.  Jurisdiction of the right-of-way varies with the monument inclusion date and terms of the parcels along the highway.

If patient proximity, earnest vigilance, and challenge readiness have served as physical sacrifices imploring Nature’s mercy, Wild Idaho Rising Tide and allies in eastern Idaho have been blessed with ten nights of stalled tar sands mining infrastructure.  But, according to Idaho State Police personnel, the third Omega Morgan tar sands megaload out of Oregon rolled from its Butte City parking spot at 10 pm on Wednesday night, March 5.  After concerned citizens and groups lodged formal complaints with federal and state environmental, wildlife, and fisheries agencies, the heavy hauler agreed with the Idaho Transportation Department to not park at the turnout where it dumped commercially obtained de-icer, human waste, and other debris above the North Fork of the Salmon River, ten miles below Lost Trail Pass in Idaho.  WIRT would love to see a crowd of tribal and climate activists protecting the nearby critical habitat of federally listed salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations and defending surrounding national forests and Shoshone-Bannock homelands from such industrial abuses.  However, Nature has again displayed its superior force, with a rock fall onto the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 93, blocking and reducing the roadway to one lane between mileposts 344 and 348 [27].  Can the third Omega Morgan megaload squeeze around this obstacle five to eight miles below Lost Trail Pass and a few miles above its former, degraded, layover spot near Twin Creek Road?

WIRT organizers will continue to inquire nightly about transport movement, offer ongoing updates of regional megaload protest schedules, and network and coordinate demonstrations of resistance and solidarity with allies.  We encourage everyone to together participate in upcoming, earliest possible protests in Salmon, Idaho, on Thursday, March 6, in Missoula, Montana, on Tuesday, March 11, in other Idaho and Montana locations and, as the Mighty Matt driver exclaims, “everywhere”!  Please see the Round 3: Idaho and Montana Tar Sands Megaload Protests! event descriptions on WIRT website and facebook pages for current, tentative protest dates, times, and places.

[1] Round 3: Idaho & Montana Tar Sands Megaload Protests! (February 16 Wild Idaho Rising Tide) (facebook event)

[2] Megaload Ready to Move Again in John Day (February 17 Blue Mountain Eagle)

[3] WIRT Newsletter: Friday Southern Idaho Protest, First Oregon Megaload Travails (December 25, 2013 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[4] Call to Action: Tell ODOT that Sacrificing Public Safety for Big Oil’s Profit is Not Acceptable (December 18, 2013 All Against the Haul)

[5] Third Megaload Shipment to Pass through County (February 17 Mountain Home News)

[6] Third Megaload Moves Toward Valley (February 19 Idaho Mountain Express)

[7] Letter to Eastern Oregonians: Megaload Road Damage Information and Solidarity (February 19 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[8] Third Megaload Drives through Vale (February 20 Argus Observer)

[9] Southern Idaho Megaload Route and Stops (February 18 Google Maps)

[10] More Mega-Loads to Roll Across Idaho, Both North and South (February 21 Boise Weekly)

[11] Mega Mess Left at North Fork (January 24 Post Register)

[12] Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Concerned of Megaload Shipment (January 2 Idaho State Journal)

[13] ID & MT Tar Sands Megaload Protests! Hammett & Mt. Home 2-21-14 (February 21 Wild Idaho Rising Tide photos)

[14] Mountain Home Mega-Load (February 21 Wild Idaho Rising Tide video)

[15] Idaho & Montana Tar Sands Megaload Protests! Hammett, Idaho 2-21-14 (February 21 Wild Idaho Rising Tide video)

[16] Third Omega Morgan Megaload Crossing East to West Interstate 84 Lanes, Hammett, Idaho 2-21-14 (February 21 Wild Idaho Rising Tide video)

[17] Passing Third Omega Morgan Megaload on Westbound Interstate 84, Hammett, Idaho 2-21-14 (February 21 Wild Idaho Rising Tide video)

[18] Passing Third Omega Morgan Megaload on Eastbound Highway 20, Mountain Home, Idaho 2-21-14 (February 21 Wild Idaho Rising Tide video)

[19] ID & MT Tar Sands Megaload Protests! T.Jct, Craters, Arco 2-22-14 (February 22 Wild Idaho Rising Tide photos)

[20] Idaho & Montana Tar Sands Megaload Protests! Timmerman Junction, Idaho 2-22-14 (February 22 Wild Idaho Rising Tide ally video)

[21] Peaks to Craters Byway (Idaho Department of Commerce)

[22] Passing Third Omega Morgan Megaload on Eastbound Highway 20, Carey, Idaho 2-22-14 (February 22 Wild Idaho Rising Tide video)

[23] Idaho & Montana Tar Sands Megaload Protests! Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho 2-22-14 (February 22 Blair Koch video)

[24] WIRT Newsletter: Megaload Calls to Action on Tuesday in Moscow, Missoula, and Beyond (January 21 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[25] Three Megaloads – Largest Yet – Prepare for Trip from Idaho to Great Falls (February 21 Missoulian)

[26] Third Oregon Omega Morgan Megaload near Butte City, Idaho 2-26-14 (February 26 Wild Idaho Rising Tide video)

[27] U.S. 93 Southbound: Rock Fall (March 6 Idaho Transportation Department)

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