Montana’s roads are open to more Alberta-bound megaloads coming over Lolo Pass, but a showdown between state, federal and tribal agencies looms on the Idaho side of the mountains.
Two vast water purification vessels fabricated in British Columbia and weighing some 320 tons were off-loaded Monday from a barge at the Port of Wilma near Clarkston, Wash.
They appear to be the first of at least nine loads which Omega Morgan, an Oregon-based shipping company, wants to move up U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston, Idaho.
The Idaho Transportation Department has said it’s obligated to issue permits for the loads. The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest says Omega Morgan can’t pass through the 100 miles of the Lochsa-Clearwater Wild and Scenic River Corridor unless it abides by three rules established earlier this year.
The temporary standards were the result of a U.S. district judge’s ruling in January that said the Forest Service has authority to review ITD’s approval of megaload shipments.
They require that no traffic be fully stopped in the national forest to allow passage of an oversized load, that loads pass through the corridor in 12 hours or less, and that no physical modification occurs of the roadway or adjacent vegetation beyond normal highway maintenance.
The Nez Perce Tribe, whose reservation boundaries are also crossed by U.S. 12, has voiced its support of the Forest Service’s stance.
The Lewiston Tribune reported on Tuesday that Omega Morgan had submitted revised applications that would meet two of the standards. However, traffic will still be delayed by rolling roadblocks.
Rick Brazell, supervisor of the Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest, said the transportation department has told him such delays for short periods are routine and shouldn’t be a Forest Service condition, the Tribune reported.
But his agency will stick by its guns, Brazell said, and there was no sign Tuesday that an end to the stalemate is imminent.
“We are continuing to work with the Forest Service. A permit has not been issued for any equipment,” Adam Rush, a spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department, said Tuesday afternoon.
Brazell told megaloads protester Borg Hendrickson of Kooskia that his agency hasn’t given permission for the loads to pass through “and won’t unless they meet our interim criteria.”
“I’m not thinking that will happen,” Brazell added in an email Tuesday to Hendrickson, “and then we will need to do formal government-to-government consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe. That could take a while.”
If the first two megaloads do get to Montana, they’re “good to go,” said Duane Williams of the state Department of Transportation.
“On our current 32-J (oversized load) applications we ask if the number of loads associated with the overall project will be greater than 50. They answered no,” Williams said. “Then we ask will they be greater than 10 a week? They answered no.”
The moves require rolling roadblocks and night-time travel after 10 p.m. In Montana, traffic can be delayed for no longer than 10 minutes.
The loads for which Omega Morgan has been approved are similar in size and shape to one that moved through Montana last fall. It followed Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil’s highly controversial two-lane route down Lolo Creek on U.S. 12, through Missoula on U.S. 93 to Interstate 90 and Bonner, then up the Blackfoot Valley on Highway 200 before crossing Rogers Pass.
Its ultimate destination was the tar/oil sands mines in northeastern Alberta, and that’s where the current loads are heading too, although Omega Morgan won’t say who’ll take possession when they get there.
John McCalla, president and CEO of Omega Morgan, said the company is working with ITD and the Forest Service to obtain permits to move the loads.
“Once that happens, we will issue a press release and John will take questions from the media,” company spokeswoman Olga Haley said, adding it’s company policy not to reveal customer names.
“I think they call them water purification vessels,” Williams said of the two loads that sit on the docks at the Port of Wilma. “They’re not terribly tall – 23 feet – and they’re 21 feet wide, which isn’t as wide as some of the others that have come through.”
The megaloads are fully 210 feet long, but Williams said he rode along for one leg last year from Lincoln over Rogers Pass to Bowman’s Corner and he was impressed with how smoothly the night went.
“The way they have their traffic control set up and the way they moved along, there was very little delay,” he said.