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Federal Judge Halts 'Megaloads' On Idaho Highway

Bett Haverstick
Friends of the Clearwater.

A federal judge has halted so-called "megaload" traffic through a wild and scenic corridor in Idaho.

The ruling issued Friday orders the Forest Service to close a section of highway to an Oregon company trying to move oil equipment to Canada. The case deals with a route once traveled by Lewis and Clark, where the Nez Perce have ancestral land and still exercise treaty rights.

Earlier this summer, the Forest Service said it couldn’t allow shipper Omega Morgan of Hillsboro, Ore., to move a two-story, slow-moving “megaload” on Highway 12. But when company started rolling anyway, forest officials didn't stop it.

Now, Judge B. Lynn Winmill is ordering the feds to stop the extra-large traffic. The federal judge in Boise sided with the Nez Perce Tribe and the environmental group, Idaho Rivers United. His order will remain in place until the Forest Service completes a study on the impact of the loads, in consultation with the tribe.

Brooklyn Baptiste, a member of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Council, says the federal government has an obligation to protect the wild and scenic corridor where many sacred sites are located.

“It's definitely special to us, not only historically, but we still continue to use this in modern day times for commerce and our people still use it for harvesting," says Baptiste. "And so for us, we didn't want to see it [turned] into an industrial corridor.”

Baptiste was among 28 tribal members arrested and charged with public nuisance for blocking the passage of “megaload” shipment in August.

The subsidiary of General Electric that manufactured the water evaporator said in a statement it was disappointed with the judge's ruling to delay its shipments. The company says this particular piece of equipment makes oil refineries more environmentally friendly and water-efficient.

According to court filings, the decision could be a $5 million hit for the company. But Judge Winmill said the manufacturer knowingly put itself in the position of incurring losses when it decided not to wait for Forest Service approval.

Shippers see the narrow byway as a prime route for moving huge oil equipment to Canada's oil sands because it connects to the Port of Lewiston and avoids overpasses. The shipments have to move at night and make regular stops because they block traffic.

The next load was scheduled to move Sept. 18.