General Electric files to intervene in federal megaloads court case

BOISE — General Electric, the fourth largest corporation in the world, has petitioned to intervene in a federal lawsuit filed by Idaho Rivers United and the Nez Perce Tribe. The suit seeks to protect the Lochsa-Clearwater Wild and Scenic River corridor from transport of enormous industrial megaloads bound for the tar sands of northern Alberta.

“GE’s intervention shows how desperately the oil industry and their contractors want to convert one of America’s first Wild and Scenic River corridors into an industrial highway,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “We need to have this discussion. They need to know the Lochsa-Clearwater is a national treasure, not an industrial corridor.”

Citing “significant financial impact” and the potential to suffer “millions of dollars in lost revenue,” General Electric’s attorneys filed in federal court Monday, Aug. 26. The court scheduled a hearing for Sept. 9 at 4 p.m. at the federal courthouse in Boise.

Though GE is citing potential financial losses, the company has known its shipments would meet resistance since at least last April, long before it barged megaloads up the lower Snake River and equipped them for transport through the Wild and Scenic corridor. In an April 4 letter, IRU’s attorney, Laird Lucas, relayed to industrial shipper Omega Morgan that use of Highway 12 violated multiple legal authorities and would be strongly opposed.

“Resistance to mega-load shipments on Idaho’s Highway 12 remains strong, both among local citizens and among the many organizations committed to protecting the route,” Lucas wrote. “The strength of this opposition can increase both the time necessary to transport equipment on Highway 12 and the cost of this transport.”

Still, Omega Morgan moved two GE-owned loads up the lower Snake River and trucked one through the Nez Perce Tribe’s reservation and the Wild and Scenic corridor, where the company met significant tribal and citizen resistance.

“They set themselves up for this,” Lewis said. “They created this conflict. This is a place that’s not for sale. It doesn’t have a price.”

Filed Aug. 8 during the shipment of GE’s first load, the IRU and Nez Perce Tribe lawsuit seeks an injunction to protect one of the first Wild and Scenic River segments in the nation. It charges that the U.S. Forest Service’s failure to stop the megaload from entering the Wild and Scenic corridor was “arbitrary, capricious, (and) an abuse of discretion.” The injunction would prevent megaloads while the Forest Service implements regulations to protect the corridor.

“It’s obvious the Forest Service ought to be joining us and not GE,” Lewis said. 

Since the fall of 2008, the oil industry and a specialized group of shipping companies have been working to convert U.S. Highway 12 into an industrial high-and-wide corridor that prioritizes the transport of megaloads over other uses of the highway. And they’ve been doing so in flagrant violation of all applicable legal authorities.

“To be clear, IRU is not anti-corporate. Some of our best supporters are large and responsible corporations like AIRE and Patagonia,” Lewis said. “But this is a clear example of the world’s largest companies exploiting local highways, a federally protected river corridor, a tribal homeland and local residents to further their corporate profits. And they’re doing it at the expense of a spiritual, scenic and recreational national treasure.”

Omega Morgan has agreed not to attempt moving another megaload, already being stored at the Port of Wilma near Lewiston, until Sept. 18.