Federal judge: Forest Service has authority to regulate megaloads

Four ConnocoPhillips megaloads shipped through the Lochsa/Clearwater Wild and Scenic River corridor in 2011. A federal ruling issued Feb. 7, 2013, states that the U.S. Forest Service and Federal Highway Administration have the authority to regulate such loads on U.S. Highway 12 in northern Idaho and acted unlawfully in determining they didn’t.  (Photo by Kevin Lewis)

In a clear victory for Idaho’s Wild and Scenic Rivers, a federal judge ruled Feb. 7 that the U.S. Forest Service and Federal Highway Administration “acted unlawfully” when they determined they could not regulate megaloads within the Wild and Scenic Lochsa and Clearwater river corridor of northern Idaho.

Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued his 18-page decision late this afternoon, stating that federal laws are applicable to Forest Service lands for which an easement was granted to the state of Idaho for operation and maintenance of Highway 12.  The Forest Service had said that it lacked authority to regulate them.

“The Forest Service has previously indicated its desire to protect the Wild and Scenic corridor. Now that it’s been established that it has that ability and authority, we look forward to working with the agency to protect this very special place,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis.

With representation by Advocates for the West, IRU pursued the lawsuit to protect this nationally-treasured and federally-protected river corridor from the impacts of gargantuan truckloads of equipment that threaten the area’s wild, scenic and recreational values. Most of the megaloads consisted of equipment manufactured in Asia and destined for Tar Sands oil production facilities in Alberta.

Referring to applicable federal laws, including the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Winmill said it is clear that it is within the agencies’ authority to act.

“This authority clearly gives the federal defendants jurisdiction to review ITD’s approval of mega-load permits that authorize acts along the river corridor including the construction of turnouts along the rivers, the trimming of hundreds of trees, and the restriction of the public’s recreational opportunities,” Winmill wrote.

Winmill heard final arguments in the case on Wednesday, Feb. 6, and indicated his ruling would follow in short order. Advocates for the West Executive Director Laird Lucas argued the case on behalf of IRU.

“This decision confirms that the Forest Service has the authority to protect the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers, and I’m pleased that the court recognized that the agency has to follow federal law,” Lucas said.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Boise on March 10, 2011, IRU’s lawsuit is the only federal action to challenge the transport of megaloads up Highway 12 and through the Lochsa and Clearwater Wild and Scenic river corridor.