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Nez Perce Seek Court-Ordered Roadblock With Second 'Megaload' On Horizon

Jessica Robinson
Northwest News Network

Nightly protests on Idaho's Highway 12 delayed but did not stop a huge piece of oil equipment crossing the state. The so-called “megaload” passed through a scenic river corridor and entered Montana on Friday.

Now, the Nez Perce Tribe is asking a federal judge to prevent more extra-large shipments.

The tribe and Idaho Rivers United are suing the U.S. Forest Service for not stopping the enormous truck load. The narrow, twisty highway route passes through the tribe's reservation and a federally protected corridor that contains many tribal religious and cultural sites.

Earlier this year, a federal judge said the Forest Service has the authority to review permits for megaloads. And the agency has said it has not approved this shipment. But this month when an Oregon shipper decided to push through anyway, the federal agency said it didn't actually have the authority to stop it.

For this first megaload, it's now a moot point. The two-story, 255-foot-long water evaporator has left Idaho and is headed for Alberta, Canada.

At least 32 Nez Perce tribal members and other activists were arrested trying to block its late-night passage on Highway 12. But now another large load is in the pipeline. A spokeswoman for Hillsboro-based Omega Morgan says the company hopes to start moving a second load around the end of the month.

Omega Morgan has hired former Bush administration agriculture undersecretary Mark Rey as a consultant on the project.

The company decided to start moving the first load after the Idaho Transportation Department issued the company a permit. In stern letters to both the shipper and ITD, forest supervisor Rick Brazell said the Forest Service “does not consent, approve or otherwise authorize Omega Morgan to transport” the megaload through federally protected areas. The Forest Service has said it needs to complete an assessment -- in consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe -- to determine how the huge trucks affect the “intrinsic values” of the area.

Megaload opponents worry continued oversized traffic on Highway 12, which follows a route once used by Lewis and Clark, will lead to alterations of the byway and make it a regular route for transporting huge equipment to the oil sands in Alberta. The remote scenic byway is an appealing path through the mountains because it's accessible by river barge and doesn't have overpasses. It’s also regularly used by recreators on the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers and by the tribe.

Many local leaders see megaload traffic as a windfall for the Port of Lewiston and businesses along the route. Omega Morgan has told Idaho transportation officials it has as many as 10 megaload-sized shipments it hopes to transport to Alberta.