BOISE — Idaho Rivers United and the Nez Perce Tribe filed a joint lawsuit in federal court in Boise late this afternoon in order to stop the movement of megaloads along U.S. Highway 12 through tribal lands and the Clearwater-Lochsa Wild and Scenic River corridor.
The lawsuit charges that the U.S. Forest Service’s failure to stop a megaload from entering the river corridor was “arbitrary, capricious, (and) an abuse of discretion.” The Tribe and IRU are also seeking an injunction that would halt the megaload now in the river corridor and block transport of other megaloads until the federal agency completes a review of their impacts on the Nez Perce homeland and the federally protected Wild and Scenic River corridor.
“It’s incomprehensible that the Forest Service didn’t have the backbone to enforce its own rules,” said IRU Executive Director Bill Sedivy. “They’re sending a terrible message to anyone who would abuse rivers and forests, as well as important cultural and historic sites on our public lands.”
Nez Perce Executive Committee Chairman Silas C. Whitman said the tribe had exhausted its avenues of diplomacy and outreach, but received no redress.
“The tribe is frustrated we have to take action in court to stop something that a court has previously ordered the Forest Service to actively regulate, but feel we have been left with no other option,” Whitman said. “Our action of filing this legal proceeding as well as our active protests on the highway to this transport was precipitated by the agency’s failure to do its job.”
IRU and the Tribe filed in federal court after an industrial moving company, Omega Morgan, trucked a massive load of General Electric-owned equipment past the Forest Service boundary Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. The 644,000-pound, 255-foot-long, 21-foot-wide load was parked at Syringa Thursday near Milepost 90, 16 miles into the Wild and Scenic River corridor.
In a letter sent Monday, Aug. 5, Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell wrote to the company: “The Forest Service does not consent, approve or otherwise authorize Omega Morgan to transport the subject over legal loads on US Highway 12 between MP 74 and 174,” the Wild and Scenic corridor.
“This load’s entry into the Wild and Scenic River corridor irreparably harms the experiences of the traveling and visiting public, as well as the cultural, historic and aesthetic values of these Wild and Scenic Rivers,” Sedivy said. “This has been a sad week for Idaho. First, the Idaho Transportation Department, Omega Morgan and General Electric blatantly disregard the wishes and regulations of the Forest Service and ignored the wishes and concerns of the Nez Perce Tribe. Then, while it looks like Supervisor Brazell had the right idea, those of higher authority in the Forest Service didn’t have the will to enforce the agency’s own rules.”
The Middle Fork of the Clearwater and its tributary, the Lochsa, were among the first rivers protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. Idaho Sen. Frank Church championed the act, which also included among its first designations the Selway and Middle Fork of the Salmon rivers.
The Clearwater and Lochsa rivers were singled out for designation because of their scenic, recreational, cultural, historic and other unique values.
“These rivers represent the embodiment of what the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was meant to protect,” Sedivy said. “These rivers anchor cathedral-like forests that inspire awe, reflection and reverence. They are recreational Edens for fishermen, campers, hikers, hunters, bicyclists, history buffs, whitewater kayakers and rafters; and they are the cultural roots for the Nez Perce people.
“We have a responsibility to protect the Clearwater and Lochsa—the way we see them now and enjoy them now—for our children and for their children. The Forest Service shares that responsibility and should be leading the charge for protection.”