Shipping company thumbs nose at Forest Service, Nez Perce Tribe

BOISE — Omega Morgan’s promise to truck a megaload of industrial equipment along U.S. Highway 12 Monday night is in direct defiance of the U.S. Forest Service and shows incredible indifference to the Nez Perce Tribe, an Idaho river conservation group says.

“I am appalled at Omega Morgan’s lack of respect for the Nez Perce people, for a nationally treasured river corridor and for the authority of the U.S. Forest Service,” said Idaho Rivers United Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “Despite clear direction from the Forest Service that these loads are not authorized for movement along Highway 12, Omega Morgan is manufacturing a confrontation.”

Last month, the Forest Service implemented regulations preventing megaloads from traveling the federally protected Clearwater-Lochsa Wild and Scenic River corridor on U.S. Highway 12. But Omega Morgan, an industrial transportation company based in Hillsboro, Ore., indicated last week that it would proceed with an enormous shipment anyway.

“We plan to proceed Monday and are eager to use the final permit and traffic control plan conditions to show the positive effects that they will provide,” wrote Omega Morgan CEO John McCalla in a Friday, Aug. 2, letter to Clearwater/NezPerce National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell.

In a July 26 letter to the Idaho Transportation Department, Brazell reiterated that the Forest Service does not support ITD permitting oversized loads that fail to meet interim criteria he imposed. ITD granted a state permit for the loads on August 2.

“The State’s current position that permits will be issued regardless of the potential for such impacts seems to be in direct conflict with the recent Federal Court Ruling,” Brazell wrote. The state issued a permit Friday, subject to Forest Service review.

Siding with Idaho Rivers United, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill last winter ruled the Forest Service has jurisdiction over any megaload seeking to traverse the Wild and Scenic River corridor. Exercising that authority, the Forest Service clearly stated that Omega Morgan load exceeds its criteria.

The shipment that could depart tonight—an evaporator owned by General Electric Corp. and bound for the tar sands mines in Alberta —is 21 feet wide, 255 feet long, 23 feet high and weighs 644,000 pounds.

“These megaloads clearly degrade a number of qualities of the river corridor that are cherished by all the citizens of Idaho, the Nez Perce Tribe and citizens across the nation,” Lewis said. “IRU stands firmly with the Nez Perce Tribe and others in defense of this unique and special place.”

Following Omega Morgan’s announcement on Friday, the Nez Perce Tribe quickly challenged the Forest Service to use “all legal avenues” to stop the pending shipments and said it would not prevent its own members from blocking the load.

In a Sunday press release, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Chairman Silas Whitman said he was shocked at Omega Morgan’s audacity. 

“The Forest Service must not tolerate Omega Morgan’s open defiance of its authority and instead should aggressively assert, in court if necessary, the agency’s decision so that the Nez Perce Tribe’s unique Treaty-based interests and U.S. public’s interest in the national forest and Wild and Scenic River Corridor are fully protected,” Whitman said.