March 2014 Highway 95 Mammoet Megaload Updates


Issue Background

Dutch heavy hauling company Mammoet plans to move three 1.6-million-pound industrial shipments, measuring 441 feet long, 27 feet wide, and 16 feet high, from the Port of Wilma, Washington, near Lewiston, Idaho, to the Calumet-owned Montana Refining Company in Great Falls, Montana [1-4]. At this closest U.S. refinery to Alberta tar sands mining operations, these megaloads would contribute to tripling refinery conversion of 10,000 barrels per day of Canadian tar sands crude into Rockies transportation fuels. These pieces of a desulfurization reactor, a “hydrocracker,” would travel through Moscow, Plummer and Worley on the Coeur d’Alene Tribe Reservation, Coeur d’Alene, and perhaps Sandpoint before entering Montana [5, 6]. They would traverse 20th Street in Lewiston to avoid the rock face where Highways 12 and 128 intersect, and would only cross Moscow between 11 pm and 1 am on Sunday through Thursday, requiring removal of street light poles at the Washington Street curve, where the sidewalk would be closed between First and C Streets.

Since first public notice on December 13, 2013 – six weeks after initial Mammoet project proposal to the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) and after November 26 rejection by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) – until late February 2014, Mammoet intended to traverse Highway 95 and Interstate 90, exit at Sherman Avenue, and take East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive for 5.5 miles, to detour around the Veterans Memorial (Bennett Bay) Bridge, a span too tall and long to withstand these megaload weights [7-9]. At an Interstate 90 interchange at the end of the drive near Higgens Point, previously abandoned when the ground collapsed under earth movers during construction, the behemoths would cross under the freeway and mount a temporary, gravel on-ramp between two wetlands. The colossal shipments would access the westbound interstate lanes while traveling east for a short distance, before crossing to the eastbound lanes and over the 1319-foot-long Blue Creek Bay Bridge built in 1951, and then driving off the highway between Pinehurst and Smelterville. Between mid-January and mid-February, the ITD District 1 office in Coeur d’Alene and FHWA personnel in Boise exchanged and revised various documents including a draft environmental evaluation based on a categorical exclusion, per National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements [10, 11]. Without FHWA review and approval of this transportation project, called the Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive Temporary Overweight Truck Route, Mammoet and ITD could not construct the likely reusable “temporary” Interstate 90 on-ramp, which would accommodate megaload passage while endangering natural resources and public infrastructure.

On February 6, 2014, a day after final ITD documents submittal to FHWA, five regional conservation- and climate change-oriented groups including WIRT co-wrote and sent a letter of concern about these proposed Mammoet megaloads to FHWA, ITD, and other responsible city, county, state, and federal representatives and transportation, wildlife, and environmental agencies [12]. Wild Idaho Rising Tide, Spokane Rising Tide, Kootenai Environmental Alliance (KEA), Friends of the Clearwater, and Palouse Environmental Sustainability Coalition (PESC) strongly recommended that these agencies “better consider and act to prevent the implications of this proposed Mammoet move and on-ramp construction for air and water quality, wildlife and habitats, the regional environment and inhabitants, and global climate.” The grassroots organizations formally requested that the appropriate cooperating agencies comply with NEPA mandates, extend and expand their project review and public involvement processes and periods, and delay and deny project approval based on further analysis.

WIRT colleagues harbor strong motivations for seeking to stop this tar sands onslaught. Adrienne Cronebaugh of KEA asserted: “Transport of megaloads along service roads that line sensitive and highly valuable natural resources, like Coeur d’Alene Lake, should not have been an option in the first place. East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive was not built for heavy industrial use nor is access to the interstate available at its end.”

“Concern is growing among Spokane Rising Tide activists that ITD and heavy haulers will not abandon this temporary ramp and route,” said Terry Hill of the climate change group. “The project could resurrect and permanently establish the Interstate 90 fossil fuel corridor through Washington, Idaho, and Montana. A megaload sliding or falling into Coeur d’Alene Lake and releasing toxic, lakebed heavy metals would jeopardize the downstream Spokane River basin that thousands of residents and wildlife share.”

Pat Rathmann of PESC stated: “The Palouse Environmental Sustainability Coalition aims to mitigate climate change and other environmental threats through education and community engagement. We view any activity promoting the production of tar sands oil as the most serious threat to climate change.”

“We oppose the transport of these oversize loads on our highways for two reasons,” Pat Fuerst of PESC added. “1) Our roads were not designed to handle such loads. We have no reason to tolerate the imposition on traffic, the damage to sub-surface road structure, and the risk of serious accidents. 2) These loads are part of the infrastructure that supports expanded development of Canadian tar sands. We visited tar sands mines and processing factories in Alberta and saw first-hand the devastation of land, air, and water caused by this industry. It is reckless, immoral, and unnecessary to damage, in this way, our Earth, the interdependent web of all existence, and the future of our children and grandchildren.”

Recent Issue Developments

Upon late February 2014 return from eight WIRT-instigated southern Idaho protests of Omega Morgan-hauled megaloads struggling toward Alberta tar sands in-situ mining operations, we learned that our former adversary, ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil’s heavy hauler Mammoet, was planning an unknown alternative proposal, perhaps a different route around the Palouse or the Coeur d’Alene Reservation or Lake. Over the course of the next week, we inquired among conservation and tribal allies and submitted a third public records request about the situation. According to March 5 and 10 WIRT phone conversations with Jason Minzghor, ITD District 1 operations manager in Coeur d’Alene, ITD would expand project analysis beyond a categorical exclusion to an environmental assessment, not a full environmental impact statement, but nonetheless an examination of the Mammoet scheme to build a “temporary” Interstate 90 on-ramp that requires greater public input through a 30-day comment period.

When ITD belatedly and illegally mailed 95 documents to WIRT last week, in response to our public records request, we compiled pertinent files on our website and found that FHWA had advised ITD to pursue a stronger environmental analysis on February 13, one week after receipt of our extensive letter of concern that we believe nudged these agencies into stalling or diverting this Interstate 90 megaload route. Through appropriate legal channels combined with frontline resistance at this historic moment, citizens of three Northwest states are currently challenging megaloads on three distinct routes – U.S. Highways 12, 95, and 395/93, as Oregon comrades forward a lawsuit filed against megaload permits issued in their state and Indian Peoples Action and allies blockade transports in Montana.

But various stakeholders suggest that Mammoet would prefer to avoid the typical scrutiny and delays of NEPA processes and the federal lands and funds associated with highway construction. The hauler has not proposed megaload use of Highways 3 and 5 east of Coeur d’Alene Lake to ITD. Talking with Mr. Minzghor in early March, poring over recently received ITD documents, and understanding a years-long opponent revealed that Mammoet will choose the option that lets it act most rapidly. On February 24, the Mammoet USA South operations office (located at 1499 Tech Place, Suite 280, Vancouver, Washington) and its contracted escort, Red Wolf Traffic Control (of Lapwai, Idaho, the seat of Nez Perce tribal government), devised an alternative megaload route up Highway 95 to Sandpoint and east through the fragile riparian habitat along beautiful Lake Pend Oreille and the Clark Fork River on Idaho and Montana Highways 200 to Ravalli, Montana [13, 14].

Depending on which option the hauler chooses and how quickly the private, Boise engineering consultation firm (and conflicted project and public relations promoter) Forsgren Associates can analyze bridges on the Highway 200 route or compile an environmental assessment for the original Interstate 90 proposal, Mammoet transports could move within a few weeks to six months, as of March 5. The alternative “goat path” purportedly poses less traffic problems than the interstate route. But most amazingly, it would impose the heaviest, longest, and widest megaloads ever allowed on Northwest roads and bridges on the almost two-mile-long Highway 95 Long Bridge over Lake Pend Oreille into Sandpoint [15]. The dangerous, massive equipment would exit Highway 200 onto city streets specified as “Business 200” through Hope and East Hope, re-entering 200 on Centennial Boulevard. They would continue through the narrow, winding Icicle Cliffs area east of Clark Fork, Idaho, between towering rock faces on one side of Highway 200 and a steep drop down to the Clark Fork River on the other side [16].

In Montana, before turning south on U.S. Highway 93 toward Missoula, the shipments would pass along Montana Highway 200 through the Flathead Reservation, where an outraged Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal (CSKT) member has already exclaimed, “Over my dead body!”  Montana activists and reservation residents are requesting public records from the Montana Department of Transportation and presenting information about this Mammoet proposal to tribal officials and council representatives. They have contacted a couple of activist lawyers who are willing to assist capable and ready CSKT attorneys with fighting any attempt to bring tar sands megaloads through the Flathead Reservation and other locations in Montana.

Megaload haulers seem increasingly willing to abuse public resources and citizen and treaty rights more recklessly with every invasion, yet residents along new routes inexplicably ogle the transports without a second thought about their destructive capabilities. Oil companies mining the Athabasca tar sands and Northwesterners burning the resulting Great Falls oil in their vehicles would kill people, forests, wildlife, and rivers while frying the planet [17]. Wild Idaho Rising Tide first broke the news of the possible Highway 200 route and protests of the tar sands refinery megaloads on facebook, on WIRT’s Monday evening Climate Justice Forum radio program on KRFP Radio Free Moscow, and for Portland audiences of the Locus Focus radio show on KBOO [18]. Dennis Bernstein of the nationally broadcast radio program Flashpoints also interviewed Helen Yost of WIRT about the Mammoet transports and regional resistance to Omega Morgan megaloads since a temporary federal injunction blocked them from Highway 12 and the Nez Perce Reservation and homelands on September 12, 2013 [19]. Wild Idaho Rising Tide anticipates continuing discussions with interested lawyers, finding legal hooks and willing activists, and challenging these megaloads until Highway 95 can finally claim a more definitive victory. As throughout four Northwest states, we will work diligently to confront them on yet another alternative route, again with allied and tribal resistance.

Great Falls Tar Sands Refinery

The schedule of Mammoet megaload passage has remained a mystery, while Idaho and Montana transportation departments review and revise permits. Some ITD employees have “heard through the grapevine there are several bridges in Montana that do not have sufficient capacity to allow this size of truck.” However, the Great Falls tar sands refinery destination of these shipments is probably influencing some of the three-month delay of these three 600,000-pound cargoes rusting at the Port of Wilma. Some news emerged from the public open house meeting held by Calumet in Great Falls on February 18, 2014 [20-22]. One newspaper account notably mentions the refinery expansion as a doubling of capacity, although earlier releases described a tripling [23]. Another media story notes that, “The hydrocracker will be transported to the refinery in three pieces, each weighing more than 350 tons…Calumet said it expects the megaload to arrive in the late spring or early summer. Calumet plans to hold at least two more informational sessions, one in June 2015 and one in January 2016” [24]. An air quality permit from the Montana Air Resources Management Bureau may take three months to resolve, involving a 30-day public comment period. And removal of 14,200 cubic yards of lead- and petroleum-contaminated soil, discovered beneath the Calumet refinery expansion site where the megaloads would assemble into a hydrocracker, could also potentially delay the Mammoet transports from lumbering between Lewiston and Great Falls [25].

New Industrial Corridor?

These three Mammoet megaloads are not the first and are probably not the last to rampage Highway 95 and beyond, as once oil companies test and set precedents on new routes, they could continue to pursue their insatiable, destructive appetite for profit from fossil fuel extraction and production. After the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United victoriously, albeit temporarily, closed Highway 12 to the transport company Omega Morgan, its current route through eastern Oregon, southern Idaho, and western Montana for three shipments weighing up to 900,000 pounds has proven slow, arduous, and costly. Although oil-related industries seem to have become the world’s new superpowers, more influential than the governments of nations and empires, capable of achieving almost anything they wish, anywhere they want, they are desperately seeking a more efficient Northwest route for their megaloads. If Mammoet can make the “temporary” Interstate 90 on-ramp or Highway 200 route work, these roads and Highway 95 could transform into a corridor for all future such loads heading to extreme energy extraction projects in the continental interior, only exacerbating American and world dependence on non-renewable, climate-wrecking, dirty energy. We cannot accept this unsustainable and inequitable progression and must stop these megaloads.

Prefabricated infrastructure components of tar sands mining and processing facilities may not be the only cargo making the trip north and east through and to industrial sacrifice zones. Pipe manufactured in Asia for the fracked Bakken shale oil field may invade next [26]. The Port of Lewiston has been courting equipment suppliers of tar sands and shale oil development for years. But even local Palouse residents successfully challenging Highway 95 re-routing and expansion south of Moscow dismiss claims that the region is in the corporate crosshairs as a transportation corridor for dirty energy projects farther inland. Wilderness preservation and academic impartiality have their price: Our most essential need, the air we all breathe, will be polluted and precipitate climate change, if people cannot forsake their pride, objectivity, and standard of living to take a stand against the hell looming at our doorsteps. Since the American manufacturing base largely moved off-shore, we can expect more international commerce invasions of rural and remote areas, where privileged, liberal refugees from urbanization and ensconced, conservative agrarians can learn a thing or two about resistance from impoverished people of color in cities, reservations, and around the globe. Megaload haulers confirm our regional dilemma: “John McCalla, president and CEO, Omega Morgan, specialists in large-scale moving operations, said, ‘The ports along the Columbia and Snake River continue to offer Omega Morgan opportunities to ship right sized cargo into the Midwest and Canada. The outlook for 2014 and beyond remains strong for continuing use of the routes leading from those ports.’”

[1] Mammoet 2014 Megaloads (Wild Idaho Rising Tide website category)

[2] WIRT Newsletter: Wednesday Hearing/Action & Public Records/News about Tar Sands Refinery Megaloads (January 14, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[3] Three Megaloads – Largest Yet – Prepare for Trip from Idaho to Great Falls (February 21, 2014 Missoulian)

[4] More Mega-Loads to Roll Across Idaho, Both North and South (February 21, 2014 Boise Weekly)

[5] Mammoet Megaloads 2013-14 Public Records (January 10, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[6] Mammoet Megaloads Public Records 3-24-14 (March 24, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[7] Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive Temporary Overweight Truck Route 3-13-14 (March 13, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide video)

[8] Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive Temporary Overweight Truck Ramp 3-13-14 (March 13, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide video)

[9] Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive Temporary Overweight Truck Ramp 3-13-14 (March 13, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide photos)

[10] Megaload Proposal in Feds’ Hands (January 15, 2014 Coeur d’Alene Press)

[11] Environmental Review Toolkit (U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration)

[12] Concerns and Comments about the Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive Temporary Overweight Truck Route (February 6, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[13] Loads on Hold (March 13, 2014 Coeur d’Alene Press)

[14] Megaload: Blame Boise for Mess (March 13, 2014 Coeur d’Alene Press)

[15] Fly Over the Long Bridge in Sandpoint Idaho (SandpointIdaho video)

[16] Megaloads Could Roll through Bonner County (March 29, 2014 Bonner County Daily Bee)

[17] Crude Sacrifice (SystemOfIlusion video)

[18] Locus Focus: More on the Megaloads, with Wild Idaho Rising Tide (March 10, 2014 KBOO)

[19] Flashpoints (March 20, 2014 KPFA, after 41:44)

[20] Calumet Specialty Products Partners (2014 Calumet Specialty Products Partners)

[21] Calumet Holds Open House on Expansion Project (February 18, 2014 KFBB)

[22] Refinery Addresses Concerns about Great Falls Expansion (February 19, 2014 KXLF)

[23] Calumet Refinery Plans for Safety as Expansion Approaches (February 18, 2014 Great Falls Tribune)

[24] Calumet Montana Refining Addresses Concerns about Great Falls Expansion (February 19, 2014 KRTV)

[25] Refinery Seeking Waste Removal (March 27, 2014 Great Falls Tribune)

[26] Real Marine Highways for Real Intermodal Solutions (March 7, 2014 MarineLink)

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One thought on “March 2014 Highway 95 Mammoet Megaload Updates

  1. Pingback: Mammoet Megaloads/Keystone XL Pipeline Gatherings & Trainings | Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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