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'Megaload' To Hit The Road, Even Without Federal OK

Bett Haverstick
Friends of the Clearwater.

The head of the Nez Perce Tribe says he's "shocked" by the "audacity" of an Oregon shipper that plans to haul extra-large loads through a protected stretch of Idaho. The company says it will start moving a so-called "megaload" Monday night. That’s despite the fact that it doesn't have approval from the U.S. Forest Service.

The truckload in question is a water evaporator that's 255 feet long, over 300 tons and takes up two lanes of traffic – and the Forest Service says it can't approve that kind of load without a formal assessment of its impact. So the agency hasn’t given the greenlight to Hillsboro, Ore.-based shipper Omega Morgan.

Nevertheless, company spokeswoman Olga Haley says, "Omega Morgan has the permit from the Idaho Transportation Department and so it's going to proceed."

The Nez Perce issued an emergency resolution, urging the Forest Service to exercise its authority. The tribe added, it won’t stop tribal members from protesting.

The route passes through the Nez Perce Reservation and a federally protected Wild and Scenic River Corridor.

It's unclear what happens next. A representative from the Forest Service says the agency is reviewing its options. But federal officials don't plan to forcibly stop the megaload.

The Idaho Transportation Department says it advised Omega Morgan that federal agencies also have jurisdiction to review the state permit.

Omega Morgan plans to move another extra-large shipment on Highway 12 at the end of the month. In all, the shipper is trying to get about 10 loads up to Alberta, Canada. Haley says the shipper has received support from community leaders in Idaho who see the slow going shipments as an economic boon for hotels, gas stations and even tire stores.

The controversy over “megaloads” on Idaho's Highway 12 first ignited three years ago when ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil sought permits to use the route for refinery equipment. It's seen as a prime passageway through the mountains between the West Coast and Alberta's oil sands.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled the Forest Service has the authority to review permits issued to megaload traffic on Highway 12.