Earth First! members may conclude their 2011 Round River Rendezvous in the Lolo National Forest with a demonstration against gigantic oil refinery modules that may travel along U.S. Highway 12.
"Traditionally the rendezvous ends in an act of civil disobedience or demonstration against some environmentally destructive project," said Missoula resident Max Granger of Northern Rockies Rising Tide, which has led protests against the Kearl Oil Sands project in Alberta. "One of the main focuses of this rendezvous is the heavy haul issue. And the rendezvous usually takes place in an area where there's an ongoing campaign against a fossil-fuels project or similar thing."
The July 5-12 gathering in the Granite Creek drainage off Highway 12 is expected to attract around 350 people who support Earth First!'s environmental agenda. Granger said the group doesn't have an organized structure or membership.
Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil has brought 33 modules up the Columbia River to the port of Lewiston, Idaho. Its original plan was to truck the "megaloads," which are 24 feet wide, 30 feet high and some 250 feet long, through Highway 12's Wild and Scenic River corridor to Missoula, and then up Highway 200 along the Blackfoot River. The mountain route was necessary to avoid low overpasses on Interstate 90.
However, oil company spokesman Pius Rolheiser said on Thursday plans are progressing to cut the modules into smaller pieces that can fit under those overpasses.
"We continue to pursue obtaining permits in Idaho and Montana on our original proposed route, including Highway 12 and through Missoula," Rolheiser said. "But because of delays we've already experienced, we've implemented this contingency plan. A week ago last Friday, the Idaho Transportation Department issued two permits to move the first two modules, from Lewiston, up US-95 to Coeur d'Alene, and then to I-90."
Rolheiser had not heard of the Earth First! plans, but said it would not change things on his end.
"Our policy recognizes the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully," he said. "We don't recognize a right, nor will we tolerate actions, that are illegal or that jeopardize property or safety."
Granger said the possible change of route wouldn't affect Earth First! either.
"The other reason for opposition is the modules are bound for the Alberta tar sands -one of the most environmentally destructive projects on the face of the Earth," he said. "We don't want to see any of those modules shipped, or that mine opened, ever."
The Missoula County commission and three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit and are awaiting a ruling by District Judge Ray Dayton of Anaconda on whether a preliminary injunction should be granted to stop construction of highway turnouts related to the transportation project.