Moscow eyes cost of megaload protests

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 | By DAVID JOHNSON of the Tribune The Lewiston Tribune

MOSCOW – Who will pay for stepped-up law enforcement when megaloads destined for Canadian oil fields pass through this town late at night amid a gauntlet of demonstrators?

Members of the city’s administrative committee Monday directed staff to explore all options, including billing the oil companies, the transporters, perhaps state police or the

Department. Committee members also asked for staff to research covering other potential costs associated with the possible movement of hundreds of the loads through town.

Chairman Dan Carscallen, Walter Steed and Tim Brown, all city council members, balked, however, at requesting the full council revisit an earlier council decision to endorse passage of the loads through town along the U.S. Highway 95 corridor.

Steed said he feared the situation was going to be “ongoing” and suggested passing the hat among demonstrators.

“I think the overtime of the police is required by protests, of the people out there protesting,” Steed said. “I will support their right to do that all day long and all night long. That’s a First Amendment right and they’ve got the right to do it.”

Six demonstrators were arrested recently when they attempted to block a megaload. About 200 more people, demonstrating both for and against the megaloads, assembled downtown a second time. But increased law enforcement appeared to thwart any attempts to actually stop the load.

Police Chief David Duke said about $1,500 has been spent so far to pay off-duty officers to help keep order when the megaloads pass through. He said a total of seven, two being over-legal loads with special permits, have come through town. Another 60 loads are staged in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, Duke said, and around 250 more are at the Port of Vancouver.

Mayor Nancy Chaney also weighed in on the demonstration issue. “This is a philosophical as well as a practical dilemma,” Chaney said. “There are no easy answers here, and there are real costs borne by the city of Moscow to put law enforcement out there. But on the other hand, our country was built by protests.”

Brown asked if other communities are experiencing similar protests and costs.

“Moscow is the only one that has had any incidences that has caused a load to deviate from its traffic control plan,” Duke said. “There are no other jurisdictions along the route in Idaho or Montana that have caused any problems, and that does include Missoula.”

So far, the Latah County Sheriff’s Office has not incurred any additional costs with the megaloads, Duke said. But deputies are helping and therefore are being taken away from regular duties, he said.

City Supervisor Gary Riedner said the Idaho State Police have entered into a contract agreement with Mammoet USA Inc., the company that is transporting the megaloads to the Kearl Oil Sands project in Alberta, Canada. He said the city might try to work through ISP to seek reimbursement, but he stopped short of suggesting the city seek its own contract with Mammoet.

All the officials said their foremost concern is public safety. “I was delighted last Tuesday to see a load just move through. There were some people on the street corners,” Steed said. “But they just moved through. There was no additional police presence.”

Johnson may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 883-0564. 

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