by Eric Barker / The Lewiston Tribune
Company may be going through Port of [Wilma] Whitman County; No permits issued yet
Permit or not, a megaload may be headed to the Port of Whitman County for eventual shipment over U.S. Highway 12.
Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell said he has received dozens of emails with pictures of a barge laden with a pressure vessel making its way up the Columbia River. He also spoke with Mark Rey, a former undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture who is working for Omega Morgan, and said the shipments will dock in Washington instead of Idaho.
“They are apparently coming, and they are coming into (the Port of Whitman County) and not Lewiston,” he said.
Two large cylindrical vessels were parked at the Port of Wilma Monday night, though it was unknown if they were megaloads awaiting transport.
The shipping company Omega Morgan wants to move as many as ten pressure vessels – equipment used to extract oil from the Canadian tar sands – from the port to a project area in Alberta. But it would first need a permit from the Idaho Transportation Department to use the highway and approval from the Forest Service to pass through the Wild and Scenic River Corridor.
In February, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill of Boise ruled the Forest Service has authority to review the state’s approval of megaload shipments that pass through national forest land, and in particular those that would affect Wild and Scenic River corridors. But the ruling didn’t define what constitutes a megaload.
Brazell wants to establish a formal definition and develop a process to consider shipments that meet the definition. He established an interim definition and has said that any shipments that meet it will face a lengthy review process that includes consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe.
In June, he sent a letter to the transportation department saying any oversized loads that require traffic to be stopped, the highway or adjacent vegetation to be modified, or those that can’t pass through the forest in 12 hours or less would have to go through that process.
Brazell confirmed that Omega Morgan has submitted a new proposal to the transportation department seeking permission to send megaloads across the twisting highway that traces the Middle Fork of the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers. He said the new plan would see the loads pass through the forest in 12 hours or less and would not require road or vegetation modification. But it would still require rolling road blocks.
Brazell said the state agency recently responded to his criteria and argued that it is routine to stop traffic for short periods of time for various reasons and it should not prevent the shipment of oversized loads on the highway.
“They are kind of making the point that is probably a criterion we should not be using,” he said.
But he reiterated shipments not able to pass all three criteria would not be approved until his agency had a chance to consult in a government-to-government fashion with the Nez Perce Tribe.
“My feeling is it is setting us up for a showdown,” he said. “It may trigger us to go through some process we don’t really have formalized yet. One of those for sure would be to meet with the Nez Perce Tribe.”