Friday, July 8, 2011

Highway 12: A National Treasure

Now that contested case hearing officer Duff McKee has recommended the permitting of of Imperial/Exxon's 200+ megaloads for travel on U.S.Hwy.12 it's time to write again. I’ve been at a loss for words these past few weeks, wondering why someone in Boise has the power to decide the fate of the highway that runs through my community as well as the fate of the nationally mandated Wild and Scenic Clearwater and Lochsa River corridors. I’m disappointed in the amount of spin being used by those in favor of shipping megaloads along Highway 12 and disturbed by the affects their distorted half-truths are having on my community as well as the debate at large.

Why does Exxon have more clout with my political representatives than I do? Why is our society so short sighted when it comes to issues that pit economics against the environment?

The deaths in May of two young men who died when a boulder crushed their vehicle while traveling eastbound on Highway 12 saddened me. It's an increase in these kinds of accidents that are my major concern when it comes to megaloads on Highway 12. I’ve put in many hours driving on 12. I’ve made tracks through fresh snow, barely making it under downed trees during a snowstorm. I’ve missed my nephew’s birthday party stuck on the west side of a swift truck wreck sprawled across both lanes of the highway. I’ve come upon distraught members of a caravan who watched their friend and traveling companion incorrectly negotiate a turn sending his truck into the river when the water was so high there was no chance of survival. I’ve seen rocks fall, land slide, guard rails crushed, creeks blown-out and the residue of diesel spilled into the river. I helped reassemble my friends front end after an elk left the river running right in front of his truck. I've seen too many close calls on Highway 12 to take it for granted.

But the Exxon and Imperial execs at the Kooskia meeting last year did not have the same experience with Highway 12, in fact they had no experience with 12 short of looking at it on a map and calculating the money they could save by using 12 as shortcut from manufactures in Korea to the tar sands in Alberta. The trip from Lewiston to Kooskia that day was the first trip many of them took on the highway. Their lack of understanding about the nature of the highway and their willingness to overlook the details in favor of fancy brochures and projected profits was disquieting. ITD’s director Brian Ness has never even driven the section from Kooskia to Lolo Pass and yet he's the one ultimately in charge of permitting megaloads.

From a local perspective Exxon’s megaloads are too big, too heavy, too wide, too tall and too dangerous for Highway 12. Just as Exxon’s corporation is too big and too profit hungry to understand the nature of Highway 12 or the risks they are taking in their attempt to turn the Wild and Scenic Lochsa corridor into a tar sands shipping route. When will people learn that Exxon is not capable of keeping anything pristine? Nor are big oil & gas corporations up front about problems once they arise as can be seen playing out today along the banks of the Yellowstone River. Why let Exxon gamble with the Lochsa?

Highway 12 is an America treasure – a drive-through wilderness without all the schlocky commercialism and consumerism that lines other wilderness highways. A drive that is in and of itself wild – where you need to be ready for the unexpected, prepared for the worst and open to the best nature has to offer. The beauty and wildness of Highway 12 can not be risked.

Exxon can not be trusted with this national treasure.

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