2013 was the year of the megaload in north Idaho.
Since 2010, Idaho Rivers United and our allies have fought to block the industrialization of America’s first Wild and Scenic river corridor.
In February 2013, IRU won an important federal court decision that affirmed the authority of the U.S. Forest Service to protect Wild and Scenic values. Unfortunately, industry decided to ignore Forest Service directives that U.S. Highway 12 was off limits to megaloads. Even more troubling was the Forest Service’s decision not to enforce its own directive, and that led to protests, arrests and new federal litigation between IRU and the Nez Perce Tribe verses the U.S. Forest Service.
In its year-end roundup of local and regional news, The Lewiston Morning Tribune declared megaloads on Highway 12 the year’s top story. The pertinent excerpt from the Sunday, Dec. 29, story follows. For Lewiston Tribune subscribers, the entire story can be read here.
1. Megaload shipments ground to a halt this year on U.S. Highway 12, succumbing to protests and a court fight organized by the Nez Perce Tribe and environmentalists.
Some of the most tense moments in the battle to prohibit the super-sized rigs from traveling through the Wild and Scenic River corridor played out at the reservation boundary line just outside Lewiston.
That was where tribal members – frustrated by an unwillingness of the U.S. Forest Service, the state of Idaho and others to intervene – halted for almost two hours the early morning progress of a megaload on its way to Canadian oil fields.
Hundreds of megaload opponents formed a human barricade, praying, singing, shouting and chanting.
Officers slowly thinned the crowd, repeatedly asking individuals to move to the side of the road. When they declined to comply, they were arrested.
By the time the sun rose, about 20 people had been taken into custody, including all but one member of the tribal executive committee.
Additional protests and arrests followed for three more nights as the megaload made its way through north central Idaho before it reached the Montana border.
Dramatic as the demonstrations were, they weren’t as effective as the tribe’s legal action. In September, a federal judge imposed a moratorium on additional megaloads using U.S. Highway 12.
A shipment, similar to the one that sparked protests, was already at the Port of Wilma near Clarkston. It was split into four smaller pieces that traveled through Idaho in November using U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 90.
The megaload ban is still in place on U.S. Highway 12 while the Forest Service examines the intrinsic and spiritual values of the route that follows the Middle Fork of the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers before heading up Lolo Pass.
The study is being done with the Nez Perce Tribe, which is in the process of reviewing a draft of the document that is not yet public. It looks at issues such as how megaloads affect recreation and sites with cultural significance to the tribe.
The issue is not likely to disappear in the coming year. Megaloads were crossing Oregon and southern Idaho at the end of this month and some speculate they were ones that would have gone through north central Idaho were it not for the moratorium. They too have encountered protests.
The Idaho Transportation Department was also reviewing requests for more megaloads in north central Idaho, although the proposed route was U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 90, roads that don’t cross the Nez Perce Reservation.