Earth First! may target megaloads

Activisit group planning annual rendezvous along U.S. Highway 12 in western Montana for early July

By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune | Thursday, June 23, 2011, 12:00 am

Civil disobedience, possibly against megaloads, is planned for July 13 after an Earth First! Rendezvous along U.S. Highway 12 in Montana.

The largest annual event of the national environmental group is set to run July 5 through July 12 in the Lolo National Forest near, but not within sight of, U.S. Highway 12 between the Idaho border and Lolo, Mont., said Greg Mack, of Moscow, an organizer.

“The day after every rendezvous we do a direct action,” Mack said. “I have to tell you we don’t like to tell people exactly what we’re going to do so we have some element of surprise. If the megaloads during that time … aren’t moving, we may choose a completely different subject.”

ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil wants to send more than 100 oversized loads on U.S. 12. The loads, consisting of pieces of a processing plant bound for the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, are so large they will take up both lanes of U.S. 12.

The Idaho Transportation Department hasn’t granted permission for the supersized cargo. The agency is waiting on a recommendation from a hearing officer who listened to representatives of opponents, Imperial Oil, Imperial Oil’s hired hauler and the Idaho Transportation Department in a proceeding that ended in May.

The possibility oversized loads might become common on the scenic corridor was a reason Earth First! selected western Montana as the site for the rendezvous, Mack said.
About 500 people are expected, with 200 to 300 gathered at any given time, said Mack, adding Earth First! picks places already disturbed by human activity, like clear cuts.

Those participants were invited through an Earth First! publication to “act to stop these megaloads that are cutting through the Northern Rockies. …You’re welcome to stay, you know, and spend the summer defending this quintessential Western experience from the oily hands of resource extraction.”

The U.S. Forest Service has no details about the plans, but will work with Earth First! as it would any other organization to be sure the resource is protected during the week, said Boyd Hartwig, a spokesman with the Lolo National Forest in Missoula.

The Forest Service often requires special-use permits for events, but Hartwig said he wasn’t sure if that was applicable in this instance or if Earth First! had sought one. “I don’t think we would go into it with any specific bias.”

Those attending the rendezvous will have a number of ways they can spend their time, Mack said. “Nobody is required to do anything other than respect each other.”

Dirty energy extraction practices and banner painting are topics of presentations, Mack said.

One area will be staffed with trainers who will show people how to climb a tree and perhaps stay on a platform overnight, Mack said.

Some workshops will teach people how to prepare mentally and physically if they are going to be involved in civil disobediences and put themselves in a place where they could be arrested, Mack said. “What generally happens (is) when the legal action fails, that’s when we step in and stop the destruction.”

Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.