Home News Local News Nez Perce tribe fights megaloads
Nez Perce tribe fights megaloads
The Nez Perce Tribe is fighting to preserve its treaty rights — this time in a Boise, Idaho, courtroom.
The tribe, along with Idaho Rivers United, a nonprofit river conservation group, wants to stop megaloads hauled from the Port of Lewiston, Idaho, down U.S. Highway 12 through its reservation, into Montana and on to a tar sand extraction site in Canada.
According to the complaint, Omega-Morgan of Hillsboro is hauling the equipment for General Electric. The load moved earlier this month was 255-feet long, 21-feet wide and 23-feet tall, according to a Nez Perce press release.
Olga Haley, public relations representative for Omega-Morgan, said the company is moving water purification devices and they pose no threat to the Wild and Scenic River corridor.
The suit and request for injunction follow a February decision in an Idaho District Court ordering the U.S. Forest Service to regulate the transport of megaloads where they pass through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest and 100 miles of highway designated as wild and scenic.
Based on the ruling in favor of Idaho Rivers, the Forest Service was to complete a necessary corridor impact study and a consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe.
“The Forest Service is the agency responsible for protecting the corridor. They told Omega no, then failed to back up their no,” said Kevin Lewis, conservation director for Idaho Rivers. “The Forest Service could have gone to the U.S. Attorney in Boise. It would have averted four nights of protests on the highway and a 644,000-pound load crawling along the highway in the dark.”
Lewis said Omega has nine or 10 loads total and one is in a port.
“Omega-Morgan barged it up the Columbia and Snake rivers knowing full well there was a problem — they basically set up this confrontation,” Lewis said.
Haley said Omega-Morgan is merely the hauler and got caught in the middle of the conflict.
The megaloads could not travel along Interstate 90 because they are too tall for the overpasses, Lewis said, can only go 15 mph, and take up the entire width of the road, slowing traffic in both directions.
Lewis said Idaho Rivers has been fighting these megaloads for three years and works regularly with the Nez Perce on salmon issues. For the people his organization represents, megaloads are incompatible with their values and the $20 million to $25 million a year in recreation economy the rivers draw.
“Basically its a visual blight. If it’s the one time in your life you are on a family vacation in that wild and scenic corridor — it’s indelibly in your mind,” Lewis said.
Idaho Rivers filed suit against the Forest Service in February to force them to exercise their authority over the Wild and Scenic corridor. Twenty-four hours later Lewis said the judge ruled in Idaho River’s favor.
“The Forest Service had the authority through acts clear back to the Organic Act and the Wild and Scenic act to protect values,” Lewis said.
Darren Williams, attorney for the Nez Perce, said the tribe drew up a resolution objecting to the megaloads. It says the Nez Perce Tribe Executive Council opposes the megaloads traveling through the Nez Perce reservation and the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest and deems their transportation across such lands, without federal authorization and without consultation with the tribe, to be contrary to Judge Winmill’s order dated Feb. 7.
The tribe maintains they were not involved in the consultation process with the Forest Service as a federal agency with a trust relationship obligation.
When push came to shove, tribal members tried to physically block the first load earlier this month and members of the executive council and Nez Perce Tribe staff were arrested.
Rick Brazell, forest supervisor for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, said his agency is working with the tribe to resolve the conflict.
“We had our first meeting on consultation with the tribe this week. The Forest Service and the tribe are both in agreement that Highway 12 should not be developed into an industrial corridor — we do not believe it is an appropriate use,” Brazell said.
He said the highway is used commercially on a daily basis by everything from oil and gas trucks to windmill blades, but doesn’t agree with its use for giant
Brazell said the Forest Service will continue an ongoing consultation process with the tribe. “We are doing a corridor study and we’ve got a full-time social scientist working on this to determine the intrinsic, spiritual values. It’s not the biological and physical, it’s the stuff you can’t see or touch, it’s the stuff you feel,” he said.
The hearing for the tribe and Idaho Rivers request for injunctive relief is set for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in Boise.