Judge: FS should have regulated megaloads along Wild/Scenic River

Yes, that's a full-sized log truck to the right of this Exxon-Mobile megaloaded carrying Korean-made tar sands mining equipment bound for the Alberta tar sands oil fields over Lolo Pass and along the Wild and Scenic Lochsa River in Idaho.
Yes, that’s a full-sized log truck to the right of this Exxon-Mobile megaloaded carrying Korean-made tar sands mining equipment bound for the Alberta tar sands oil fields. A federal judge has ruled that the Forest Service should have regulated these megaloads as they traveled along the Wild and Scenic Lochsa River and over Lolo Pass on US Hwy 12. Picture from 2011.

According to the Missoulian U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill has sided with environmentalists and ruled the U.S. Forest Service erred by not exercising its regulatory authority when Idaho allowed huge trucks to haul giant oil refinery equipment along U.S. Highway 12, through a scenic corridor protected by the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The group, Idaho Rivers United, sued the government in 2011 after the state allowed ExxonMobil’s Canadian unit to ship hundreds of so-called megaloads from Idaho’s Port of Lewiston along the two-lane highway. A copy of the judge’s ruling is here.

A previous article contained this additional information:

Idaho Rivers United argues the U.S. Forest Service neglected its duty to intervene, including by allowing 500 trees along U.S. Highway 12 to be trimmed to accommodate oil-gear shipments by ExxonMobil weighing up to 300 tons. The federal agency says it relinquished that authority over the shipments between Lewiston and the Kearl Oil Sands projects in southern Alberta to the state of Idaho….

As early as September 2010, Forest Service leaders in Idaho expressed concern about the ExxonMobil shipments. That month, Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest supervisor Rick Brazell told the Idaho Transportation Department in a letter that hundreds of oversized loads jeopardize “the experience the traveling and recreating public will have along U.S. Highway 12 through the introduction of overtly industrial elements into the otherwise pastoral environment.”

In the same letter, however, Brazell conceded he was powerless to interfere. “I recognize that I have no jurisdiction to stop these shipments, but I do oppose the idea of allowing this precedent to be set,” he wrote.

For more information about this issue, check out this video produced by some friends.

Monday AM Update: There have been some questions in the comments regarding what the Forest Service’s regulatory authority is in this issue. Here’s a portion of what the judge wrote:

“This line of authority – beginning with the Property Clause and proceeding through the Organic Act, the Federal-Aid Highways Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and finally the Highway Easement’s directive to protect the scenic and esthetic values of the river corridor – is focused on granting the federal defendants the authority to regulate the use of roads over federal land. This authority clearly gives the federal defendants jurisdiction to review ITD’s approval of mega-load permits that authorize acts along the river corridor including the construction of turnouts along the rivers, the trimming of hundreds of trees, and the restriction of the public’s recreational opportunities.”

26 thoughts on “Judge: FS should have regulated megaloads along Wild/Scenic River”

  1. Matthew.. what IS the FS regulatory authority over what travels on US highways…??? Hoping I don’t have to read the court opinion to find out….

    • Sharon, I don’t know the specifics of the lawsuit, but I assume the FS’s ‘regulatory authority’ in this is that the megaloads travel through National Forest land along a Wild and Scenic River.

      • This is a great illustration of what I call “Divergence of Physical World and Legal World”. In physical world it is hard to say that a road is “wild and scenic”; and the road is less “wild and scenic” because super-sized vehicles are on it (within the Wild and Scenic section) for x minutes a day, y days.

        Here in Physical World you lost me with the road within the “Wild and Scenic” designation. Reminds me, in fact, of roads in “Roadless.”

        • I live and drive on highway 12 every day. Did the “megaloads” cause harm to my enjoyment of the outstandingly remarkable values of the Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic river?

          Not really. I could do without the cartoon trees though. The loads, when in town, were mostly a curiosity among locals. Yeah, pretty big, but none of the detrimental impacts (lack of access to medical care, emergeny access, etc) ever happened. Aside from clipping a powerline OUT of the WSR they cruised through uneventfully.

          Now the diesel hauling semi’s that drive the highway daily seem to have a wreck about every year, spilling thier contents along the road. They are a way bigger threat to the outstandingly remarkable values (note the pump station that will pumping diesel out of the cutbank for who knows how long) and ecology of the area, but unfortunately they aren’t “big” enough to warrant attention by the protectionist crowd. Too bad.

        • Sharon, you may not realize this, but the Lochsa Wild and Scenic River travels immediately adjacent to HWY 12 for dozens of miles. You can call it whatever you want, but I’m pretty sure a conservative federal judge in the Physical World looked at all the evidence in the case and made the ruling based on that. Once again, no surprise that some here on this blog try and twist and turn things.

  2. If trimming 500 trees was the worst impact, chances are, the scenic qualities could actually be enhanced, just as the Obama Administration sought to do in National Parks (by tree removal.) The idea that “…the introduction of overtly industrial elements into the otherwise pastoral environment.” is pretty ridiculous. Just where are those “industrial elements” today?? Do they still exist? Do people even notice? Highways themselves are not a part of the “pastoral environment”.

    Additionally, the video barely even mentions the highway issue. Was there a better option to get the equipment where it needed to go? Could it be that the highway improvement and usage are merely a part of the backlash against tar sands??

    • Did Exxon-Mobile get any money from sending their megaloads along our Wild and Scenic Rivers, over our mountain passes and through our communities? What tax breaks does Exxon-Mobile get?

      • Many organizations get tax breaks, including energy firms both fossil and renewable. Certainly they should pay for the wear and tear, I assume that they worked it out with State Highways. They also do pay taxes and hire people, and provide stuff that we use to drive around.. to get to our court hearings, for example.

        • Pretty hard to call Exxon-Mobile an “organization” in the same sense that Bob wondered about Idaho Rivers United or other non-profits.

          For the record, Exxon-Mobile paid zero taxes to the federal government in 2009. Meanwhile, a Reuters analysis estimated that Exxon-Mobile paid only 13 percent in effective taxes for 2011, on profits of more than $40 billion.

          But hey, we’re all in this together, right? And we must really investigate if Idaho Rivers United gets any of their attorney fees covered, right? That’s the “big picture” issue here…for sure.

          • Matt: No, the “big picture” is that someone filed an apparently successful lawsuit, so it is reasonable to know what their motivation was — and why no one seems to want to answer that question.

            So far as the “bigger picture” is concerned, millions of Americans are using gasoline on a daily basis and have been most of their lives. We are the ones directly responsible for this situation. What is Idaho Rivers United bringing to the table? Opportunistic lawyers, an agenda, a pure concern for “the environment?” What?

            If that’s “twisting the story,” then perhaps it’s a story that needs some twisting. We’re only getting half of it, and it doesn’t seem to be adding up.

            • Bob: No, despite what you say, Idaho Rivers United (as well as other citizens, organizations and communities on this “megaload” route) have been very clear about what their motivations are in so far as trying to prevent multi-national resource exploitation corporations from turning rural, narrow US Hwy 12 and the Wild and Scenic Lochsa River corridor (as well as Montana’s famous Blackriver River corridor) into a “high-and-wide shipping corridor” for these megaloads. Anybody or any community along the route certainly understands what this issue is about and what the motivations are in preventing it. Suggesting otherwise is disingenuous, as is claiming that nobody from Idaho Rivers United “seems to want to answer that question.”

              Once again I would ask that people at least do some minimal homework and research about organizations and issues before making allegations. In this and many other cases, google is your friend: http://www.idahorivers.org/about/. Hey, maybe even someone will propose ‘direct-action’ against Idaho Rivers United and their Board of Directors.

              • I looked but I wonder what attorneys represented them on this case. It doesn’t look like litigation is highlighted on their site.

      • I was being serious, Matthew. I don’t know anything about Idaho Rivers United, but guess they are listed as a “non-profit,” or maybe even a 501 c(3) — which would mean (if true) they would be at least partly subsidized by taxpayers to begin with. If they can make an income by this type of strategy — and pay some like-minded attorneys in the process — shouldn’t that be part of the story? Especially if taxpayers are footing the bill? It makes a big difference whether actions like these are taken for entirely altruistic reasons, or if they are just another way to make money and keep staff employed.

  3. There was NO highway improvement, only a huge impact on a narrow, two lane “highway” with almost no shoulders by these monster trucks and megaloads, which I suspect caused unseen damage to the roadway itself that will show up infuture years. All to save the Korean or Canadian corps some shipping costs. This load should have been sent thru the port of Vancouver and over Canada’s highways, not ours. They came up the Columbia River on barges to Lewiston, then had to traverse hundreds of miles of narrow, poorly constructed highways in Idaho and Montana to get to those Alberta sands.
    We taxpayers have to pay for the damages and restrictions on use to save them bucks!
    All the local communities (except Lewiston, of course) were angry about this, and chances are that they will try it again. Big business running wild…profits above all else.
    Larry, is there any kind of tree-cutting that you don’t like? Your comments are amazing.

    • This is merely tree trimming, Ed, as the article says. Of course, they had to make alterations to the road itself. I have been over that road before and know that it wouldn’t accommodate such loads without improvements. I also believe that a damage provision was put into contracts for usage. Are you saying that you would rather such loads go through Canadian Parks and Wilderness, instead of here? I asked if there were better options, not just other options.

  4. No Larry, the trimmed trees look like hell. 100 tall grand firs limbed up on all sides to tiny little crowns, entire sides of huge trees limbed off like a tunnel…They look like some sort of cartoon trees. Should have just cut them down. Didn’t help the scenic quailties at all.

    As far as impact to the road, Ed, nadda. No where near the damage that occurs every year this time of the year during breakup when large sections of cliff and hillside wind up across the road. I’m sure those damages will conveniently be blamed on the megaload in years to come. I would also amend your statement about local communities being angry to read “all like minded people in local communites were angry….” or “a small but vocal group of people from local communities were angry…”. Certainly not everyone. More info:


    By the way….can someone actually define what a “megaload” is?

    Matt, you have strange friends. Nice objective video they produced. Very credible.

    • 1) If the trees are already trimmed, then isn’t it moot?

      2) As to:

      “Rick Brazell told the Idaho Transportation Department in a letter that hundreds of oversized loads jeopardize “the experience the traveling and recreating public will have along U.S. Highway 12 through the introduction of overtly industrial elements into the otherwise pastoral environment.”

      Some might argue that FS and BLM being required to lease oil and gas and coal have introduced many more “overtly industrial elements into otherwise pastoral environments” than in this project. Just sayin’ . Pots and kettles and all that.

    • Thanks, JZ, I like my friends too. The narrator of the video grew up in the rural Dakotas, worked as an oil field roustabout for a while before writing the scripts for a TV show called Gunsmoke. Maybe you heard of it.

      Anyway, curious as to where, specially, you feel the video lacks credibility. Thanks.

      • Matt, are you reading more into what I posted?

        I said nice objective video, very credible. What did you read? More interesting is why did you read what you read?

        You are welcome for calling more attention to the vid. I’m sure most folks will come to the same conclusions I did after viewing it.

        We’re all strange for spending time on our Saturday/weekend messing with this blog

        • JZ, when you write, “Matt, you have strange friends. Nice objective video they produced. Very credible”…..

          How should I interpret that other than as a sarcastic remark?

          And when you write, “More interesting is why did you read what you read?” I will admit that I need more coffee to figure that one out.

          Regardless, I agree that we’re all strange for spending our weekend messing with this blog. My parents are visiting, and we had a family reunion last night with cousins I had never met before. And yes, the braised elk shank was delicious, in case you were wondering.

  5. Don’t know what this has to do with forestry…but it’s a saturday morning and it’s supposed to snow.
    Here’s a link to Canadian Oil production for 2011. Wow. I had no idea that Tar Ssnds account for almost 55% of Canadian Oil production. 61% when you factor out the .3 million barrels/day of offshore, which is Hibernia, which is the Atlantic, which has nothing to do with Montana’s oil supply. To recap, Montana get’s 80% of it’s gasoline from Canada. Lets see, 60% of 80% means 48% of Montana’s crude COULD come from tar sands. I gots a feeling Montana’s refineries get a hell of a lot more than 25% of their crude from tar sands. No wonder they don’t want to tell anybody. Every time you fill your tank, you are an accomplice in an eco crime.

    • Derek, public lands issues are now about oil and gas because much oil and gas production occurs on forested public lands. So I don’t think it’s off topic.


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading