2 disputed ‘megaloads’ arrive on Snake River

LEWISTON, Idaho — Two disputed 255-foot-long water purification units bound for energy projects in Alberta’s oil sands have arrived at a Snake River port in Washington and await possible transport along a mountain corridor through Idaho and Montana.

But the Spokesman Review reported that the ultimate route for the oil gear is unclear, since approval of the oversized “megaload” shipments on U.S. Highway 12 hinges on agreement from the U.S. Forest Service.

A heavy equipment hauler wants the Idaho Transportation Department’s go-ahead for moving the giant units at night. The units are currently at the Port of Wilma, located on the Washington side of the river downstream from Lewiston and Clarkston, Wash.

But the Forest Service is discussing the permitting process with the Idaho Transportation Department. This year, a federal judge gave the Forest Service significant control over the shipments, following a lawsuit by environmental groups who want to block such big loads on grounds they are inappropriate for a route that follows the federally Wild and Scenic-designated Lochsa and Selway rivers.

About 100 miles of the U.S. 12 route pass through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, encompassing a number of protected areas. The route lies adjacent to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area and crosses the Lolo Trail National Historic Monument, the zigzagging path where early American explorers Lewis and Clark crossed the continent on their journey to the Pacific Ocean.

Previous tar sands-bound megaloads, including those owned by a unit of Exxon Mobil, brought to Lewiston and other ports in the region were originally destined to travel the U.S. 12 route.

But many of those loads were transported via Interstate 90, to the north, following opposition from environmentalists and residents along the highway including in the courts.

These latest shipments, however, are too tall for the I-90 route’s overpasses, according to ITD spokesman Adam Rush.

Each load carrying a water purification unit would be 21 feet wide and weigh some 644,000 pounds, according to the traffic plan submitted to Idaho. The loads would take about four days to cross Idaho, traveling between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

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