Enviros press for impact statement

Shipments would violate laws to protect Wild and Scenic corridor, groups say

By Eric Barker of the Tribune

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Idaho environmental groups are pressuring the Clearwater National Forest to conduct an environmental impact statement before allowing mega-truck loads to travel through the Wild and Scenic River corridor along U.S. Highway 12.

Idaho Rivers United at Boise and the Moscow-based Friends of the Clearwater contend the Forest Service has more authority than it is willing to admit over the shipments. The groups contend the shipments will violate a handful of laws as well as several agreements between the agency and the Idaho Department of Transportation designed to protect the corridor.

“The Forest Service has a responsibility to protect that river corridor, and we are hoping they will take one last look at this process and where they have been with it and the scope of the work that is going to be done in the Wild and Scenic River corridor and the Scenic Byway corridor and on the Forest Service property and they will do the kind of analysis these proposed shipments warrant,” said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers.

As soon as later this month ConocoPhillips and Imperial Oil want to begin shipping oil processing equipment from the Port of Lewiston to the Kearl Oil Sands Project in northern Alberta Canada. The shipments, some more than 200 feet long and weighing up to 580,000 pounds, would wind along the twisty highway that passes through the Middle Fork of the Clearwater and the Lochsa wild and scenic river corridors.

Because of the size of the shipments and the low rate of speed the trucks must travel, the transporting will be done at night, with the trucks parking at highway pullouts during the day.

The Forest Service manages the congressionally designated river corridors and the groups contend in a letter sent to the agency Thursday “must do so ‘in such a manner as to protect and enhance the values which caused it to be included in said system’ and give primary emphasis to ‘protecting it’s esthetic, scenic, historic, archeological and scientific features.’ ”

They say the shipments constitute a major federal action affecting Idaho, Montana and Canada and as such an EIS must be conducted.

“If implemented, they will degrade the scenic, historic and recreational values of a nationally designated All American Road and Wild and Scenic River Corridor. They will cause vibrations that could damage historic artifacts and National Historic Trails. Accidents during transport could result in the take of endangered fish. In addition, the transport of this equipment will indirectly cause further development of the Alberta tar sands, resulting in emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and hazardous air pollutants benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and formaldehyde.”

The letter also says the shipments violate an easement deed agreement between the Forest Service and Idaho Department of Transportation as well as maintenance agreements. The state holds an easement for the highway as it passes through the Clearwater Forest and must work with the land management agency to ensure maintenance of the highway doesn’t violate recreation and scenic values. Because the trucks will be parked in turnouts along the highway they will block views and prevent anglers and others from using the turnouts, says the letter. Noise from the shipments would also disturb campers along the river.

Lastly, the groups claim two of the turnouts, including a river access and information site at Fish Creek on the Lochsa River, which will be used as parking areas for the loads, are outside of the state’s easement and squarely on federal land.

Clearwater Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell had not seen the letter as of Friday but said he has little authority over the shipments because they will occur within the state’s highways easement.

“As long as they stay within their easement there’s nothing we can really do,” he said.

If the federal government were to become involved, Brazell said it would likely be the Federal Highway Administration, not the Forest Service.

“They are the lead agency for highways going through federal land,” he said. “We have a national agreement with them. We act as their agent unless it’s controversial and then they become the lead agency.”

Barker may be contacted at [email protected] or at (208) 848-2273.