Letters From the West

Winmill rules Forest Service can regulate megaloads on U.S. 12

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill didn’t wait long to tell the U.S. Forest Service it has the power to regulate use on U.S. Highway 12 through the Wild and Scenic Lochsa and Clearwater river corridor of north-central Idaho.

Winmill listened to arguments Wednesday then issued his 18-page decision Thursday afternoon in a case brought by Idaho Rivers United. The issue was the heavily overloaded “megaloads” that were carried by trucks briefly last year through the scenic canyons headed to the tar sands region of Alberta.

The Forest Service had said that it lacked authority to regulate them even though the Federal Highway administration runs the road on Forest Service land with an easement.

“This authority clearly gives the federal defendants jurisdiction to review (Idaho Transportation Department’s) approval of mega-load permits that authorize acts along the river corridor including the construction of turnouts along the rivers, the trimming of hundreds of trees, and the restriction of the public’s recreational opportunities,” Winmill wrote.

Winmill’s decision is yet another major legal victory for Advocates for the West and its executive director Laird Lucas, who argued the case for the rivers group.

“I’m pleased that the court recognized that the agency has to follow federal law,” Lucas said.

The decision is another blow to the Port of Lewiston who saw megaload business as a growth area for its sagging business. It also undercuts the efforts by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and many of the state’s most power business groups to push through Exxon Mobil shipping plan through for materials manufactured in Asia with little benefit to the state.

But it still doesn’t mean that the Forest Service could decide it has the authority but could approve some future megaload shipping venture if the facts support it.

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