Good News for the Clearwater-Lochsa!

25th of Jun 2014

Lochsa Highway Idaho Environmental Law conservation

By Advocates for the West Board Member Linwood Laughy:

Two recent developments have dealt another blow to the Port of Lewiston, which has launched an aggressive promotional and legal campaign to open Highway 12 to megaloads and thus attract incoming traffic to its newly extended $2.8 million container dock. Normal traffic over this dock has declined more than 70% in the last 13 years, with 2013 traffic levels at historic lows. Thus far 2014 shipments are down another 50% compared to last year. Container shipments are the only waterborne commerce the port has. A private company handles all bulk grain shipments from their own property and over their own docks.

Harris Thermal is the Oregon-based company that manufactured some of General Electric subsidiary’s “rocket ships” (water evaporators for tar sands oil extraction) that Omega Morgan intended to haul across Highway 12 last summer. The Nez Perce Tribe blockaded the highway on 3 successive nights of travel for the first of these shipments, and a federal court directed the U.S. Forest Service to halt further OM shipments through the Clearwater/Lochsa Wild and Scenic River Corridor pending review by the USFS and consultation with the tribe. The second of a planned 9 shipments was dismantled and hauled on conventional trucks, and OM later diverted 3 giant evaporators on a torturous winter trip through eastern Oregon and southern and eastern Idaho. This fall Harris Thermal will open a new manufacturing plant in Bonner, Montana located at the junction of I-90 and MT 200.  Highway 200 along the Blackfoot River is the industry’s preferred route for megaload traffic to the Canadian tar sands. This move places a major megaload manufacturer east of Idaho’s Highway 12 and also a few miles east of Missoula. Several other mining equipment manufacturers have recently moved to other Montana locations such as Great Falls and Billings, all positioned with much easier access to oil fields.

Calumet refinery in Great Falls continues to search for ways to get 3 pieces of a hydrocracker transported from the Port of Wilma 4 miles west of the Port of Lewiston to its Great Falls refinery. Mammoet was the original transporter of choice for the three 1.6 million pound loads on transporters up to 452 feet long. The units arrived by barge last December, and Mammoet told the public they expected to transport the loads up U.S. 95 to I-90 by late January. After myriad problems, the loads remain stranded and a new plan includes transporting two of the loads on rail after a possible return barge trip downriver to Pasco. Following the examples set by ExxonMobil and General Electric subsidiaries, the Ports of Lewiston and Wilma are emerging as locations where megaloads go to be stalled for months and more, cut up into smaller pieces, or now perhaps, even barged back downriver.

One of many arguments made by the individuals and organizations that opposed the conversion of the Clearwater/Lochsa Wild and Scenic River corridor (Highway 12) into an industrialized heavy haul route for giant equipment was that the provision of a cheap transport route from South Korea and Japan to the Canadian tar sands would result in the export of more U.S. and Canadian manufacturing jobs to Asia. After more than a year’s delay and huge cost overruns on its Korean-made Kearl Oil Sands modules, ExxonMobil is now manufacturing all equipment for Kearl II in Edmonton, Alberta. The new mining equipment manufacturing operations in Montana provide another example of keeping jobs in the U.S. as well as avoiding the decimation of tourism jobs in north central Idaho and preserving one of America’s most nationally designated special places.