Montana will issue megaload permit Wednesday

2013-08-07T06:00:00Z 2014-01-08T19:12:49Z Montana will issue megaload permit Wednesday missoulian.com

A permit will be issued Wednesday morning for an embattled Omega Morgan megaload to travel across Montana highways.

Duane Williams of the Montana Department of Transportation said the Oregon-based transport company emailed a request for the 32-J permit Tuesday afternoon. MDT has already approved the transport plan from Lolo Pass on U.S. Highway 12 to the Alberta, Canada, border.

“We’ll probably do the permit through Aug. 16, but we can extend it by just amending it if something out of the control of Omega Morgan should happen,” Williams said.

The load is 225 feet long, 21 feet wide and weighs 644,000 pounds. It’s the first of at least nine megaloads Omega Morgan wants to move on two-lane routes from Idaho through Montana.

Williams said last month that one of Montana’s triggers for an environmental review is a project with 50 or more shipments requiring the special oversized load permits.

At least 150 protesters met the first load early Tuesday outside of Lewiston, Idaho, at the Nez Perce Reservation boundary. Twenty people, including eight members of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, were arrested when they sat in front of the truck.

Observers said the load traveled another three miles before it was parked, far short of its first night’s goals. Omega Morgan plans four nighttime moves in Idaho. More protests were planned for Tuesday night.

Williams said he hasn’t heard of any planned protests in Montana.

“I have not at all,” he said. “I even asked the company today if they’ve caught any wind (of a protest in Montana) and they said they’ve heard nothing.”

Omega Morgan’s planned route is similar to that proposed for more than 200 loads of Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil processing equipment for the Kearl oil sands in northeastern Alberta. Those were ultimately downsized and diverted to interstate highways.

The Omega Morgan loads, also believed to be headed for the Canadian oil sands, will enter Montana at Lolo Pass on U.S. Highway 12, pass through Missoula on Reserve Street and cross over the Continental Divide at Rogers Pass on Montana Highway 200.

The Idaho Transportation Department issued a permit over the objections of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Forest supervisor Tom Brazell cited a federal judge’s ruling that called on the U.S. Forest Service to review the moves for their effect on federally recognized historical, cultural and natural resources along Highway 12 in Idaho.

The U.S. District Court for Idaho’s decision sided with Idaho Rivers United in a 2011 lawsuit claiming both the Forest Service and the Federal Highway Administration have authority to review and enforce “all relevant legal authorities, including, but not limited to, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Forest Service Organic Act, (and) the National Forest Management Act.”

The Montana route passes first through the Lolo National Forest, but the Lolo is not involved in the vetting of the oversized loads.

“The judge’s decision was specific to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the Nez Perce-Clearwater (Forest),” Lolo spokesman Boyd Hartwig said.

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at (406) 523-5266 or by email at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

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