Nez Perce Tribe questions Highway 12 hauling plans

By Brad W. Gary of the Tribune

Friday, May 7, 2010

LAPWAI – Nez Perce Tribal members and leaders alike expressed concern Thursday about the possible transport of multiple oversized trucks scheduled to be hauled along U.S. Highway 12 later this year.

Some tribal members also questioned the spending priorities of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee during the opening day of the tribe’s General Council meeting at the Pi Nee Waus Community Center.

Imperial Oil is scheduled to transport about 200 modules with a maximum length of 210 feet and a maximum width of 24 feet on the highway beginning this fall, a proposition many at Thursday’s meeting had not heard about until recently.

“We’re very concerned about oversize equipment on the road,” Executive Committee Chairman Samuel N. Penney said during his report.

A representative of Imperial Oil, Ken Johnson of Calgary, Alberta, spoke to the General Council Thursday in an attempt to answer questions about the project.

The modules are expected to be transported from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., in an attempt to minimize traffic problems. Johnson said no oncoming traffic will be allowed while the loads are traveling. The modules are being transported from the Port of Lewiston through Idaho and Montana with an end destination of the Kearl oil sands project in Alberta.

Johnson said the company is limiting transports to 15 minutes before stopping in turnouts in order to prevent delays. He added the company has been working with the Idaho Transportation Department on a plan to ensure emergency vehicles can get through.

“Highway 12 is a well-used road; who’s going to be responsible for any damages on the road?” one tribal member asked, pointing to the possibility of potholes.

Another tribal member, Bernice Moffett of Kamiah, said more representatives from the tribe should be involved in communications with the company because of the effect the transport could have on motorists and the environment as a whole. Motorists have a hard enough time with oncoming tractor-trailers, she said.

Johnson responded the traffic volume caused by the transport is going to be small compared to typical traffic on the road. He said no hazardous materials will be part of the transports.

“A lot of planning has gone into this move to do this both safely and efficiently,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he expects the permitting process to be complete in late June, with hauling to begin in the fall, lasting for about a year.

The executive committee has yet to take a position on the project, but Penney said it wants to ensure the transport does not negatively effect the Nez Perce reservation and treaty-reserved rights of tribal members.

Public meetings on the project are planned beginning June 7 in Lewiston.

Also Thursday, some General Council voters expressed frustration on the executive committee’s lack of movement on a distribution plan passed by the tribe’s voting population last fall.

General Council voters passed a proposal to distribute two $1,500 payments to every tribal member in December 2009 and June 2010. Some who voted in favor of last fall’s proposal are questioning the executive committee’s decision to instead distribute a single $1,000 payment with funds from a settlement with Avista Utilities, which was allocated in December.

Penney and Treasurer Joel T. Moffett told the General Council the executive committee must submit a revenue allocation plan to the Office of Indian Gaming before any distribution from casino revenue, something that has not yet been completed.

Joel Moffett said a revenue allocation plan committee has formed to look at future disbursements, but that other tribal commitments like expansion at the Clearwater River Casino and funding of the tribe’s government operation are also drawing on casino revenue.

“There is a lot of pressure and a lot of needs for this cash,” he said.

Some tribal members said the General Council approved a $3,000 payment, something that should be honored by the executive committee.

One tribal member noted the executive committee is supposed to adhere to the direction of General Council, as shown in the tribe’s organizational chart.

The tribe is considering putting money away for possible future disbursements, Joel Moffett said. An analysis is planned at the close of the fiscal year to see what the tribe is able to contribute to fund future distributions.

General Council continues at 8:30 a.m. today.

Gary may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2262.