Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Megaloads & Highway 12: A 2012 Update

The first half of 2012 has seen positive developments for the safety of Highway 12 and the protection of the Wild and Scenic River Corridors of the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers. In February, Montana District Judge Ray Dayton ruled in favor of the plaintiffs (Missoula County, and remanded the issue to MDT stating further environmental review was needed. According to a 2/18/12 Missoulian article, in his decision, Dayton wrote: "Without first determining the scope of the project, i.e. whether the turnouts will be permanent or temporary, MDT could not meaningfully assess impacts associated with the KMTP."... "MDT therefore violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act and its implementing regulations." Judge Dayton also ruled that MDT needs to review Imperial Oil's use of alternative routes to transport reconfigured modules. (Read more) In early March, ruling on dismissal motions, Idaho Federal Judge Winmill upheld most of Idaho Rivers United's suit against the USFS & FHWA. In the ongoing case, IRU is pursuing allegations that the 2 federal agencies should have used their authority under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to block state action permitting the transformation of the Wild & Scenic Lochsa-Clearwater U.S. Highway 12 corridor into a megaload truck route. In a 3-10-11 press release, IRU stated it’s reasons for the lawsuit: "The Middle Fork of the Clearwater and its tributary, the Lochsa, were among the first rivers protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. Idaho Sen. Frank Church championed the act, which also included among its first designations the Selway and Middle Fork of the Salmon rivers." The Clearwater and Lochsa rivers were singled out for designation because of their scenic, recreational, cultural, historic and other unique values. “These rivers represent the embodiment of what the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act was meant to protect,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “These rivers anchor cathedral-like forests that inspire awe, reflection and reverence. They are recreational Edens for fishermen, campers, hikers, hunters, bicyclists, history buffs, whitewater kayakers and rafters. “We have a responsibility to protect the Clearwater and Lochsa — the way we see them now and enjoy them now — for our children and for their children. The Forest Service shares that responsibility and should be leading the charge for protection.” (Read more.) Mid-2012 is a good time to reflect on the brief history of Megaloads on Highway 12. Just like the assurance from our Governor’s office that, “the shipper could delay traffic and close a small section of U.S. 12 for up to 15 minutes at a time for each load, and do this no more than two times over the entire route for each load" was false. So too were the statements of Imperial Oil saying that these loads could not be broken down into smaller shipments, or that the modules could only be made in South Korea and that the only shipping route available was Highway 12. We know now for certain that the modules can be broken down, they can be made in Alberta among other places, there are numerous other routes available and the delays from these types of loads are multiple and longer than 15 minutes. Back in late 2009 I’d never heard of the tar sands, the plight of Alberta steelworkers or large scale international trucking companies like Mammomet. All I knew was that the plan to ship loads that big on Highway 12 was more than crazy – it was dangerous. Instead of seeking local input or honestly responding to citizens concerns Exxon/Imperial went on a PR campaign trying to make this an environment vs. jobs issue in order to avoid having an honest discussion about the real costs involved with creating a permanent high and wide corridor through North Central Idaho. There are similar tactics being used right now with the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead of a rational discussion of the pros and cons of having a pipeline of the heavier tar sands oil stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, a PR campaign was launched identifying Big Oil as "job creators" and pipeline opponents as "job haters"and sticky-taping pipeline construction to lowering gas prices. Is the rush to get the pipeline built really about the handful of American jobs it would create or the billions of dollars Exxon will make if they have a pipeline that goes directly to the Gulf Coast and the International Oil markets? Will the XL guarantee lower gas prices? Some evidence suggests otherwise.... read