The Nez Perce Tribe challenged the U.S. Forest Service on Sunday to use “all legal avenues” to stop a pending megaload shipment from crossing national forest land and said it would not prevent its own members from blocking the load.
In a news release issued on Sunday evening, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Chairman Silas C. Whitman said he was shocked at the audacity of shipping company Omega Morgan, which announced on Friday its plans to begin moving a massive evaporator east on U.S. Highway 12 tonight. The company has a permit from the Idaho Transportation Department but has not gained approval from the U.S. Forest Service.
Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell has said he won’t authorize the shipments before consulting with the tribe. But he also said he doesn’t know if he has legal authority to physically block them.
Whitman said the tribe believes the federal agency can and should stop the shipments.
“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,” he said.
Whitman went on to say that the shipping company, by moving the loads to the Port of Wilma and announcing it will begin moving them tonight toward the Alberta, Canada, oil fields, is trying to create a “false sense of urgency and provoke unnecessary conflict.”
“Actions beyond mere words may be necessary, in order to have the Nez Perce Tribe’s voice heard. If Omega Morgan proceeds with defying the Forest Service, the Nez Perce Tribe will not interfere with its members’ constitutional rights to lawfully assemble in opposition to the immediate threat of the transport of these two megaloads (today).”
The tribe’s executive committee passed an emergency resolution on Sunday formally opposing the Omega Morgan shipments through its reservation and its traditional homeland. According to the news release, the shipments that take up two lanes of traffic and require rolling roadblocks can adversely affect the tribe’s treaty-reserved resources, tribal commerce, government function, cultural resources, and tribal landmarks.
In February, federal judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the Forest Service has authority to review megaload permits when they cross national forest land. Brazell said on Sunday that he and several other Forest Service officials will respond this morning to Omega Morgan’s announced plans.
The shipment that could depart tonight is 21 feet wide, 255 feet long, 23 feet high, and weighs 644,000 pounds. Omega Morgan is shipping the evaporator for the General Electric Corporation. According to the permit, the shipment would not begin its journey until 10 pm and would travel only at night. It can block traffic no more than 15 minutes at a time and will take four days to travel from the port to the Idaho/Montana state line. According to a traffic control plan, the shipment would not be able to make it through the forest in 12 hours, as required by interim Forest Service rules.
(By Eric Barker, The Lewiston Tribune)