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A truck crashed last weekend into the Lochsa River, dropping rolls of unprocessed toilet paper weighing 8,000 pounds each into the waterway.

A five-mile stretch of Idaho's Wild and Scenic Lochsa River remained cluttered by megarolls of toilet paper Tuesday, four days after a truck driver from Texas lost control on a tight turn and dumped the load.

Mahmoud Salameh, 24, of Fort Worth, was transported to Missoula's Community Medical Center early Friday with unknown injuries. He was later released.

Salameh was ticketed for inattentive driving and failing to purchase a permit to haul the 53-foot trailer, according to an Associated Press report. A spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department said Tuesday the cost of an extra-length permit is $43.

The wreck occurred at around 4:30 a.m. Friday near milepost 157.3 on U.S. Highway 12, 4 1/2 miles west of Powell and 17 miles from the Montana state line. Salameh was westbound when he failed to negotiate a curve and hit the guardrail, an Idaho State Police accident report said.

The Freightliner truck he was driving took out roughly 100 feet of guardrail before overturning and sliding into the river, dumping the load of eight rolls of unprocessed toilet paper, each weighing 8,000 pounds.

The road was closed while the truck and trailer were removed from the river. Two of the rolls were fished out with a cable and tow truck before they became too saturated, said Don Whitney, a fisheries biologist for Idaho Fish and Game.

"They estimated that once these rolls are waterlogged they weigh about 30,000 pounds apiece," Whitney said.

The two rolls fell apart as they were removed.

"If you can imagine, you take a saturated piece of toilet paper and swash it around in water, all you have is this big cloud with now hundreds and hundreds of pieces of paper," Whitney said. "That's what we do not want to happen."

Whitney is working with a Kooskia, Idaho, company on an alternative cleanup plan. As of Tuesday afternoon they hadn't settled on one. Three of the six rolls that remain in the river are lodged near or on the far shore, which is bordered by rocky and inaccessible banks.

"There's no easy way to get at this, as far as removal," Whitney said. "Safety of lives is definitely an issue in even considering how to remove these rolls."

While the Lochsa has dropped considerably in recent weeks, it remains higher than usual and powerful enough to scatter the rolls down the river.

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The paper rolls aren't expected to affect the fish population in the upper Lochsa, where salmon are just beginning to appear this summer.

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"It's just more of an aesthetic thing," Whitney said.

The paper rolls aren't the only foreign objects in the Lochsa. Some 30 miles farther west of the truck crash, a 1999 Windstar van remains where it landed after plunging into the river last Thursday. Jerry Whinery of Hamilton died in the crash.

According to the Idaho State Police crash report, the van will be left there until the water is lower and it's safe to recover.

Whitney said when he was traveling to the crash site of the truck on Monday he rounded a corner and came upon a vehicle stopped in the middle of the road near where the van sits. The people inside thought the wreck had just occurred.

Five miles later, Whitney said, a wrecker crane was lifting from the ditch a tractor trailer hauling wood chips.

Highway 12 is the controversial route proposed by a Canadian oil company to haul more than 200 megaloads of processing equipment from the Port of Lewiston, Idaho, to the Kearl Oil Sands of Alberta.

Objections centering around the feasibility of the scenic, winding two-lane highway along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers in Idaho, as well as Lolo Creek in Montana, have stalled the Kearl Module Transportation Project in administrative and judicial venues in both states. Late Tuesday, District Judge Ray Dayton upheld plaintiffs' request for a temporary injunction to halt the project in Montana.

 

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