Imperial-Exxon abandons Idaho, Montana megaload route

Imperial Oil's big blue test module was designed to determine the navigability of rural Idaho and Montana roads between the Port of Lewiston and the Canadian border for supersized megaloads of tar sands processing equipment. Trucked from the Port of Lewiston to Lolo Pass on the Montana-Idaho border in May 2011, the shipment pulled down power lines and knocked out electricity to customers along the Clearwater River. As per a June 20 court filing in Montana, Imperial Oil has contracted for its demolition. It will not complete its journey. (Photo by Kevin Lewis)

The citizens of Idaho and Montana achieved another step toward protecting the Lochsa and Clearwater Wild & Scenic river corridor on Wednesday, June 20, when Imperial Oil withdrew its application for permits to transport megaloads on Montana’s rural roads.

It was the first public indication since November 2011 that Imperial, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, had abandoned its plans to transport 207 enormous loads on small, rural roads in Idaho and Montana — including U.S. Highway 12, which meanders through the Clearwater and Lochsa Wild & Scenic River corridor.

“This is a win for our Wild & Scenic rivers, but the threat isn’t gone,” said Kevin Lewis, IRU Conservation Program Director. “Imperial and other megaload transporters continue to pursue the conversion of Scenic Highway 12 into an industrial high-and-wide shipping corridor to move similar super-sized loads.”

Lewis further pointed out that Imperial/Exxon has irreparably harmed the corridor’s wild and scenic qualities by trimming trees adjacent to the highway.

“The scalping of trees to facilitate megaload transport created a visual blight that has permanently altered the corridor’s visual aesthetics,” he said. “The Forest Service and the Federal Highway Administration failed in their responsibility to protect the Wild & Scenic corridor.”

Imperial’s move to abandon its prior plans was made public with a June 20 court filing by the Montana Department of Transportation, which was sued by Missoula County and other Montana conservation groups. The filing also indicated that Imperial has contracted for demolition of a huge blue test module that was transported from the Port of Lewiston, through the Wild & Scenic corridor and left near the summit of Lolo Pass on the Idaho-Montana border.

Early in 2011 IRU filed a federal lawsuit charging the U.S. Forest Service and Federal Highway Administration with failure to protect the Wild & Scenic values of the Middle Fork of the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers.

These two rivers are among the original rivers designated by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, and Congress mandated that all federal agencies protect and enhance the outstanding values that led to their designation.

“While we’re celebrating Imperial’s immediate change of plans, the long-term threat remains,” Lewis said. “Imperial Oil and others continue to pursue Highway 12 as a transportation corridor for megaloads. Until the federal agencies fulfill their obligations to protect these national treasures, IRU will continue to vigorously pursue its litigation. America’s first Wild & Scenic Rivers deserve no less.”