A major chapter in the megaload saga in the Northern Rockies is drawing to a close.
Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil said Monday it’ll start the final two over-legal loads remaining at the Port of Lewiston in Idaho on the road to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta on Tuesday night, weather permitting.
The first of 34 immense loads arrived at Lewiston by barge via the Columbia and Snake rivers in the fall of 2010, but were stranded there by legal protests and an environmental review process in Montana.
Imperial/Exxon ultimately opted to reduce the size of the original loads and ship them via interstate rather than the proposed two-lane routes of Highway 12 and Highway 200. Those shipments began last summer, and the final two megaloads will follow the same route that their roughly 65 predecessors took: from Lewiston north to Coeur d’Alene on Highway 95, then to and through western Montana on Interstate 90 and Interstate 15 on subsequent nights.
“We moved three loads of equipment last night, and we’re moving two (Tuesday) night,” Imperial spokesman Pius Rolheiser said Monday. “There will still be some additional loads coming out of the port, but they’ll be legal loads on conventional trailers as opposed to these over-legal loads on hydraulic trailers.”
Rolheiser estimated the company has 100 loads remaining at the Port of Pasco in Washington. They too wind up traveling on Interstate 90 and I-15 through Montana.
He didn’t go so far as to say that the original Highway 12 route over Lolo Pass is a dead issue. District Judge Ray Dayton, in response to a lawsuit filed last year by Missoula County and three conservation groups, last month ordered the Montana Department of Transportation to look further into the proposed transportation plan on Highway 12.
MDT has no intention of appealing Dayton’s ruling and “there has been no decision on any of the next steps by the department,” spokeswoman Lori Ryan said.
Rolheiser had little to add from Imperial’s perspective.
“We’re still assessing the judge’s decision and deciding what our next steps are,” he said. “We still don’t know whether we’ll pursue it further.”
Both shipments of Korean-manufactured equipment scheduled for Tuesday night are 24 feet wide and 15 feet high. The first is 215 feet long and weighs approximately 415,000 pounds. Its first leg will take it to a parking area south of Coeur d’Alene. The second is smaller – 135 feet long and 255,000 pounds – and will travel to I-90 and on to Wallace, Idaho. The loads will travel together through Moscow, site of the only sustained protests since the Highway 95 hauls began.
Opponents of the loads are hailing the emptying of the Lewiston port, but some are also licking their wounds.
“We hope ExxonMobil now has a greater understanding about Idaho and Montana geography and history and the tenacity of rural people protecting their way of life and the unique values of the places they call home,” said Linwood Laughy, who lives along Highway 12 in the Kooskia area.
“We also hope other corporations that might be considering the Highway 12/200 route will choose the interstates for their transportation needs. An even better plan would be to build their equipment not in Asia but in the United States and Canada.”
“It’s a mixed bag for us,” said Helen Yost of Wild Idaho Rising Tide, which has regularly staged the Moscow protests. “On one hand we are so glad they’re gone because it has been a lot of psychological warfare and not really knowing who’s going to make the next move. We feel compelled by our consciences to be out there with every passage and rage against these machines.
“But we are content that we have brought greater awareness to the tar sands issue, although we have been pretty severely overshadowed by Keystone XL (pipeline) campaign. There’s just a lot more news coming from that.”
The Moscow protests have resulted in a dozen arrests since August, the most recent two coming Sunday night. Yost said four Rising Tide protesters – two men and two women – linked arms and sat in the road to block the two loads coming through. They chose a spot a block ahead of where the protesters normally gather, “based on the premise we wanted to take the police by surprise,” said Yost.
Officers “more or less dragged” the women out of the way and arrested the men.
“The women are feeling pretty beaten,” Yost said. “We’ve had a hard time getting the women arrested.”
Yost said that there is no action of civil disobedience planned for Tuesday’s moves, but she’s sure some spontaneous protests will be present for the final loads.