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Refinery Equipment
The first large barge with Korean-made oil refinery equipment bound for Alberta arrives at the Port of Lewiston, Idaho, recently. The equipment may soon be transported along the winding U.S. Highway 12 corridor to Missoula and on to Canada. Photo by Barry Kough/Lewiston Tribune

From grassroots to Manhattan, the battle to keep hundreds of big rigs off the two-lane highways of Montana and Idaho continues to mushroom.

What began early last spring as an energetic local effort centered in Missoula spread quickly over Lolo Pass into rural Idaho. It has since reached across state lines and into the war rooms of an impressive array of environmental groups.

The hubbub ignited by ExxonMobil's plan to truck super-sized pieces of equipment - many of which sit now in a shipping lot at the Port of Lewiston, Idaho - to the oil/tar sands of Alberta reached the pages of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal on consecutive days last week.

"There are probably close to 50 organizations that have taken a stance on this issue, whether it's been simply stating their opposition or working on it day in and day out," said Zack Porter of Missoula, campaign coordinator for All Against the Haul.

All Against the Haul is the second, and an offshoot of the first Missoula-based group formed specifically to fight the big rigs.

Porter, who graduated from the University of Montana in May, said the initial organizational impetus was provided by interested individuals and two other groups, Northern Rockies Rising Tide and the University of Montana's Climate Action Now.

The former was a 6-month-old grassroots group in the network of Rising Tide, an international organization formed 10 years ago to address the root causes of climate change.

"We wanted a place for the community to come together and discuss the issue" of the oversized loads, said Nick Stocks of Northern Rockies Rising Tide.

Thus arose the No Shipments Network, a show-up-and-speak group that meets and plots every other Wednesday evening at the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center on Higgins Avenue.

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No Shipments received plenty of initial support locally. The Missoula City Council listened to and passed a resolution voicing its opposition to the big rigs, and the Missoula County commissioners wrote a letter to the Montana Department of Transportation calling for a more thorough environmental impact study.

Over summer, the No Shipments movement organized a rush-hour demonstration on Reserve Street - the proposed route of the shipments through Missoula - and helped coordinate a visit by Winona LaDuke to the Flathead Reservation in Pablo to raise awareness about the tar sands issue in Canada.

"All Against the Haul came together in July when a number of established nonprofits in the area, along with No Shipments, met and decided there was a need for some group to start coordinating everyone's efforts related to the heavy haul and to kind of raise the profile of the issue," Porter said.

All Against the Haul operates independently, he added. But to receive donations and grants, the new group enlisted the Western Environmental Law Center as its fiscal agent.

All Against the Haul consists of four officers. Porter heads it as a campaign coordinator. An unpaid volunteer for No Shipments in the spring, he worked half-time for All Against the Haul when it was first formed. Since September, he's been working a 40-hour work week.

He's joined on the staff by Lula Turman, the communications director; community organizer Alex Johnson; and Melissa Hayes, who heads development work.

Based in Missoula, All Against the Haul worked collaboratively with local groups to sponsor a screening of "Out of Balance: ExxonMobil's Impact on Climate Change" at the Roxy last Thursday night and a demonstration at an Exxon station at the corner of Reserve and Mullan on Saturday. (See related story.)

But Porter said his group is networking all the groups associated with the anti-haul movement in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Its contact list includes Montana representatives from the No Shipments Network, Clark Fork Coalition, the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes in Montana; the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition in Washington, Oregon and Idaho; and the Natural Resources Defense Council's Montana representative, Josh Mogerman, in Chicago.

"Every single one of these groups is independent," Porter said. "We are not an umbrella organization, and we don't claim to be. What we are is just a group that's trying to elevate this issue to a higher level of recognition, to educate a wider audience about the issue and to coordinate between groups."

Porter said All Against The Haul has been spearheading organization against the haul in the Blackfoot Valley and along the Rocky Mountain Front, and is leading outreach to Montana tribes.

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Most of the recent attention has been focused on another grassroots group in Idaho, Fighting Goliath - The Rural People of Highway 12. It's the two-person operation of Linwood Laughy and his wife, Borg Hendrickson, who live along Highway 12 near Kooskia. The couple were up front and center in the New York Times piece and an earlier feature in the Los Angeles Times.

They and neighbor Peter Grubb successfully filed suit in district court to block the shipments of four coke drums another oil company, ConocoPhillips, wants to truck from Lewiston to its refinery in Billings. The case was heard by the Idaho Supreme Court on Oct. 1 and is awaiting a decision.

Laughy and Hendrickson provide an information clearinghouse of sorts through Hendrickson's website, fightinggoliath.org,

and keep in frequent contact with area media outlets, including the Missoulian.

"We also provide updates and alerts to a rapidly growing network of individuals and their own organizations, ranging from local residents along Highway 12 in Idaho to dozens of groups from national bicyclist to conservation groups to women's clubs," Laughy said.

It's the kind of role Porter sees All Against the Haul assuming when the big rig focus switches to Montana.

"What's most exciting isn't the national attention, but how many people from all political parties are coming together around this issue here in Montana and Idaho," said Porter.

"Recreation and tourism are the backbone of our regional economy, and no one wants to be taken advantage of by the wealthiest corporation in the world, ExxonMobil. Do we or don't we want to remain the Last Best Place?"

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

 

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