Friday, February 25, 2011

Kooskia, Idaho ~ Gateway to the Wilderness or Pit Stop along Big Oil's Tar Sands Alley?

Kooskia Crossing is a lovely and informative tourist area at the entrance to Kooskia, Idaho. Volunteers have spent years developing this area, which now boasts a handsome, illustrated "Welcome" sign, multi-paneled information kiosk, and landscaped green space that volunteers spruce up and groom each year. One feature of the area is a beautiful metal sculpture celebrating the salmon and their native home, the Clearwater River. But now one's view of the salmon includes the giant megaload you see in the background. If the hundreds of proposed megaloads of Exxon/Imperial, Harvest, Shell and other tar sands oil companies are permitted for shipment along U.S.12, these giant loads will sit here almost daily for decades to come.

Speaking of salmon, one environmental concern of a megaload accident on U.S. 12 is damage to critical salmon spawning grounds. A load the scale of the megaloads could create an immediate dam if it fell into the Lochsa. Since Exxon's shipping company Mammoet had two accidents in the past year while driving on dry flat wide roads, it's no stretch of imagination to envision their having a slip-off or tip-over on curvy, narrow U.S. 12. A decline in salmon and other fish populations will be felt throughout north central Idaho's economy. Right now, today, in just a 2-mile stretch of the Middle Fork, 18 fishermen are fishing. They buy groceries, cafe meals, fishing gear, gas and rooms.

The question for local residents is what does the future hold for our children. We live next to the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 and enjoy 3 pristine wild and scenic rivers in our backyard. These are our greatest, most valuable natural resource assets. They are worth protecting - not just for their physical beauty, abundant hunting and fishing and many other recreation opportunities - but because they have value to visitors from around the nation and world and offer a substantial base for a healthy long-term tourism industry. Our area becomes more valuable to tourists and Idahoans alike only for as long as we protect the natural, remarkable wild and scenic qualities of North Central Idaho and ensure access to our wildlands and rivers. If instead we choose to take a few quick bucks now from oil companies wanting to turn our the highway into an industrial megaload truck route, we stand to loose normal access in the present and our only growing industry in the future. What may look like easy money to some comes with a price tag for our children and grandchildren - deteriorating roads, lower tax base, loss of access to public lands/rivers, and loss of value of our greatest asset.

Photo by Gail Renshaw

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