Letters From the West

Winmill blocks megaload shipments until Forest Service review

The Nez Perce blockade at Canoe Camp near Orofino in early August. (Photo courtesy Borg Hendrickson)

The Nez Perce blockade at Canoe Camp near Orofino in early August. (Photo courtesy Borg Hendrickson)

A federal judge has ordered U.S. Highway 12 closed to an Oregon shipper of tar sands processing equipment until the U.S. Forest Service completes a review.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued the injunction against Omega Morgan and the Idaho Department of Transportation Friday ahead of the company’s planned shipment of a second oversized “megaload” scheduled Sept. 18.

Winmill said the U.S. Forest Service should have carried out its authority to enforce the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act’s protection of the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River and the Lochsa River along the highway that has some of the most beautiful views of any road in the nation. He said Omega Mogan could not make any shipments until the Forest Service completed its review and consultation with the Nez Perce tribe, which brought the suit along with Idaho Rivers United.

Omega Morgan said General Electric, the company shipping the equipment, had no other option because its load is too high for overpasses on U.S. Interstate 90 to the north. It defied the Forest Service in early August and went ahead with the shipment amidst a series of protests on the highway by tribal members and other opponents.

Winmill specifically ruled that Omega Morgan put itself in a position to lose $5 million in the event the shipment was blocked by ignoring the Forest Service review. He also said the Forest Service was obligated to complete the review and consultation with the tribe.

U.S. 12 runs through the Nez Perce Reservation and blocks traffic on both lanes while the megaload is in route. The first load passed through without major incident beyond the protests.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West