(Posted in fall 2011, during the height of the Highway 95 tar sands megaload onslaught between July 15, 2011, and March 6, 2012: Please see other parts of the WIRT website for issue updates.)
Between August 2010 and September 2011, through two state administrative hearings, a district court case, and an Idaho Supreme Court decision as well as ongoing federal-level litigation against the Forest Service and National Highway Administration, our allies in the Clearwater Valley have valiantly, although precariously, protected our narrow, winding Wild and Scenic river corridor along Highway 12 in Idaho from Big Oil’s rampages (see the Fighting Goliath website). Represented by the Boise environmental law firm, Advocates for the West, private tourism business owners, highway residents, Nez Perce tribal members, and a conservation group stalled passage for five months of four ConocoPhillips coke drum halves that then took six months to reach Billings, due to the arduous nature of the rural route and weather.
After rigorous exposition of agency errors during an extended contested case hearing in April and May 2011, Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) director Brian Ness nonetheless granted permits in early September 2011 for Imperial Oil shipments of tar sands oil upgrading equipment on Highway 12. Although the company has not yet applied for these 114 permits, it did send one full-size ‘test validation module’ through this public wildlands route in April, which has been parked just inside the border awaiting Montana permits ever since. Ironically, two commercial fuel tankers have wrecked and spilled their poison in roadside ditches along the wild Lochsa River over the last two years, while other corporate robber barons like Weyerhaeuser have contracted Nickel Brothers to haul a couple dozen similar two-lane-blocking “megaloads,” weighing up to 600,000 pounds and stretching out over 200 feet, along the remote route to Alberta that Idahoans have struggled to close to such gargantuan machinery.
Meanwhile, supported by the public outreach of our All Against the Haul colleagues and the bold demonstrations of fellow Northern Rockies Rising Tide activists, Missoula County commissioners and three conservation organizations belatedly (from an Idaho frontline perspective) in May 2011 initiated a district court proceeding. In July 2011, they successfully secured a preliminary injunction against Imperial Oil use of rural, two-lane Montana roads such as Highway 200 through the Blackfoot A River Runs Through It valley and the magnificent eastern Rocky Mountain Front along Highways 287 and 89. Calling upon the more stringent environmental statutes of Montana than Idaho, the plaintiffs argued that the Montana Department of Transportation had not thoroughly analyzed through its environmental assessment the impacts of allowing expansion or construction of turnouts to clear traffic around the mammoth Imperial Oil loads. But in mid-October 2011, at the request of parent company ExxonMobil, Montana District Judge Ray Dayton modified this injunction to open an abbreviated portion of the original route – Highways 12 and 93 from the Idaho state line to Missoula – to “heavy haul” transports alternatively accessing Interstates 90 and 15 to Canada.
Because Idaho citizens had effectively blocked tar sands traffic on Highway 12 throughout 2010, Imperial Oil began to ship an estimated 60 shorter transports from the Port of Vancouver, Washington, in December 2010. At the Port of Lewiston, the oil company also hired out-of-state workers who eventually poured $17 million into the local economy and commenced reducing the 30-foot tall modules to 14- and 15-foot heights in early 2011. Corporate executives of Canadian subsidiary Imperial Oil had previously certified to ITD and testified in various court cases that these transports were irreducible and thus could only travel on less developed rural roads lacking overpasses. After alluding for months to an alternative route for the split-megaloads, industry representatives confirmed in March 2011 that they intended to utilize Highway 95 from the Port of Lewiston, through Moscow, to Interstates 90 and 15 in Idaho and Montana for their Kearl Module Transportation Plan. The original 33 megaloads, disassembled into about 70 tar sands upgrader plant pieces, had been stranded in port yards since they arrived via barge in October 2010.
When our Missoula allies obtained the preliminary injunction against Highway 12 and other Montana megaload movements in mid-July 2011, Moscow became ground zero for the tar sands invasion. In light of the excellent work of Advocates for the West and Fighting Goliath in challenging but nevertheless failing to prevent ITD megaload permits, despite the solid merits of their cases, our legally inexperienced, direct action group has been unable to persuade more than a dozen lawyers to bring forward a similar contested case hearing against Highway 95/Interstate 90 megaloads. Undaunted, northern Idaho citizens have extensively aired our concerns for shipment infringements of public safety, convenience, and access on our highways and city streets as well as cumulative damages to our tax-sponsored road and bridge infrastructure.
We have engaged our state legislature and city government in myriad ways, speaking as a majority of megaload opposition at a well-attended May 2011 public meeting before state agency officials and seeking and securing a September 2011 city commission recommendation against megaload passage. Despite our sustained, articulate, and justifiable outcry against transport of tar sands equipment through our town and local complicity in planetary climate change, we have barely countered our City Council’s brash May 2011 position statement welcoming the megaload onslaught for economic reasons. As 75 loads rolled up Highway 95 between July 15, 2011, and March 6, 2012, and the last few dozen of 165 modules crossed Spokane, Washington, streets in May and June 2012, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) activists have monitored their movements and documented numerous violations of their transportation plan and our civil liberties. We have not released much of this damming information, in futile hopes of yet finding legal representation and confronting Big Oil in court with their multiple abuses of people and our shared property.
More noticeably, at least by our facebook fans, regional supporters, and even Bill McKibben, WIRT and community members have relentlessly protested transit of every module through Moscow. On August 25, police arrested six brave souls as they sat or stood in a major intersection, directly in the path of one of the larger Imperial Oil megaloads. As four women monitored the shipments on the following night, Idaho state troopers arrested two of them for anonymously sitting in a vehicle parked along Highway 95 near Coeur d’Alene, waiting for the megaload convoy to pass. This instance underscored the ongoing intensive presence and policies of state, county, and city police as they not only escort and guard these oil company payloads but seek and receive reimbursement for their corporate security services from the megaload hauler Mammoet.
As many as 150 participants in our continuing demonstrations have gathered with protest signs, chanted anti-tar sands/megaload slogans, and waved banners in solidarity with impacted First Nations residents and other tar sands and associated pipeline resisters. Inaugural WIRT actions this spring and summer included exercising our crosswalk rights to traverse our city streets with protest signs in front of the transports. Since our major August actions, police have constrained us to the sidewalks, quoting cryptic state laws that authorize closure of entire rights-of-way – including sidewalks that shipments may overhang – in advance of each garish procession of flashing lights, noisy engines, and extra-wide modules (search for Wild Idaho Rising Tide on YouTube for videos of these dark processions). Idaho State Police routinely approach and question highway travelers and set up cameras to record their license plates during megaload passage, to frighten and discourage citizen scrutiny of this despicable public resource takeover. We have nonetheless attracted the assistance of potential engineering expert witnesses and have compiled a substantive collection of evidence through our megaload monitoring efforts – some of it revealed amidst Highway 12 court cases, some of it withheld in anticipation of a similar Highway 95 public review.
Moscow activists have not overtly secured the victories against ExxonMobil on Highway 95 that our neighboring allies have proclaimed for Highway 12, since the oil giant applied for 300 interstate-only Montana permits in early November. However, we have somewhat stealthily displaced tar sands traffic to the Port of Pasco and Interstate 395 in Washington, where megaload shipments started in October 2011. Although we have not courted the regional media as stalwartly and skillfully as our Highway 12 campaign colleagues, plenty of our letters to local newspaper editors have disclosed the wrongdoings of Imperial Oil transports. An ambulance trapped behind a Ryash convoy and a rear-end collision near an Imperial megaload flagger have highlighted the dangers of a permanent Highway 95 industrial corridor to the tar sands. Our anti-megaload intentions have also inadvertently hit their mark: our city police have admitted and we have circumstantial evidence that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security have actively probed our internal communications (probably even this one). Despite many threatened direct actions, we have found the highly educated and ethical but relatively reticent Moscow population unwilling to engage in hardcore civil disobedience that would actually stop megaload ingress for more than a few Martin Luther King, Jr.-style, sit-in moments.
Thus, WIRT organizers would truly appreciate the national media attention and likely resulting campaign successes that a large-scale direct action, assisted by national and international conservation and climate change oriented groups, could achieve (please view our invitation at About WIRT). Pivotal events among the endless barrage of multiple, concurrent megaload assaults are recognizable more by their absence than by their schedule. For instance, when Earth First! staged its annual Round River Rendezvous in July 2011 near the stranded test module in Montana, no megaloads rolled on any roads for the entire week, due to anticipated direct action encounters. As an organization supported by a dispersed and ragtag cadre of peers, we have vowed to stop this industrial invasion wherever in appears across our region. We encourage and welcome your collaboration in a massive demonstration against what we consider the greatest tar sands threat traversing American lands and waters.