Agreement allows only one oversized vehicle to use route in months of June, July and August
By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune
The volume of megaloads being transported along U.S. Highway 12 will be limited to a trickle, and not all of the shipments will necessarily take up two lanes of traffic under a court-sanctioned compromise announced Friday. The agreement is the result of mediation ordered in a federal court case filed by the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United against the U.S. Forest Service.
Under the agreement, just one oversized vehicle – either more than 16 feet wide, more than 150 feet long or weighing more than 150,000 pounds – will be allowed to use the route in the months of June, July and August. Two such vehicles will be allowed each month the rest of the year. Transport vehicles that exceed two or more of the criteria would be prohibited from the route.
It’s the latest development in a controversy that surfaced about seven years ago. That’s when the highway was identified as a way to help get foreign-made equipment to the Canadian oil sands.
Imperial Oil initially proposed sending 200 megaloads along U.S. 12. Eventually, those loads were moved along a different route. The possible transition of the remote road spawned protests by megaload opponents, including Nez Perce tribal leaders, that blocked the road for several hours in August 2013.
Weeks later, opponents won a key victory. No megaloads have traveled between Lewiston and Missoula on U.S. 12 since the middle of September 2013, when a temporary injunction was issued in the federal case. The ruling banned the shipments from a 100-mile section of the highway that goes through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest along the Middle Fork of the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers. It also required the forest service to conduct a study in consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe to see how the corridor’s cultural and intrinsic values are affected by megaloads.
The study found that even megaload supporters didn’t want an industrial corridor in an area known for its scenery, recreation, fishing, wildlife, cultural uses and water life, according to a letter submitted to the Idaho Transportation Department explaining the compromise.
Prior to Imperial Oil’s proposal, two to three oversized transports used the route each month, according to the letter.
“We believe (the) restrictions are a reasonable compromise, which allows Highway 12 to continue to be used for commercial purposes, including (megaloads), consistent with historic use,” the letter reads.
It’s not clear how soon transport companies will take advantage of the agreement.
Nickel Bros., a heavy equipment transporter, has no immediate plans to use Highway 12, but the company might consider it for future projects, said Nick Carpenter, U.S. operations estimator for Nickel Bros.
“(Since) there is some availability to use that corridor, we’re very excited,” Carpenter said. “We definitely look forward to hearing more about this.”
ITD currently has no pending applications from megaload transports, according to spokesman Adam Rush. The department has stricter rules than those in the compromise and will allow the Forest Service to decide if megaloads can use the highway, Rush said.
Omega Morgan and the Port of Lewiston didn’t respond to requests for comment. Omega Morgan is the company that shipped the megaload that sparked the 2013 protests. The Port of Lewiston often is the destination of equipment transported by megaloads.
As transportation officials reviewed the compromise, megaload opponents celebrated.
“We are highly gratified that by pulling together, informing ourselves and taking action, rural people with a keen sense of place and love of the Lochsa, Selway and Clearwater basin have helped enable all area residents and all Americans to continue enjoying this pristine wild and scenic place,” said Borg Hendrickson, an activist opposed to the Highway 12 route, in an email.
Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.