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Megaload to pass through Bitterroot Valley

By Michael Howell

The company that hauled a megaload over Lolo Pass on Highway 12 last August, before having that route shut down by a federal judge, now plans to haul an even bigger load over Highway 93 into Montana over Lost Trail Pass instead. That route will take it right through the Bitterroot Valley on Highway 93.

Omega Morgan, a hauling company based out of Oregon, is hauling large pieces of water purification and refinery equipment to the Tar Sands oil fields in Alberta, Canada. The company hauled a megaload across Highway 12 last August but subsequent planned trips were derailed by a federal judge who stopped any further shipments along the Lochsa-Clearwater Wild and Scenic River corridor. The company has now outlined an alternative route from the Port of Umatilla, in Oregon, across central Idaho and over Lost Trail Pass into Montana. The company has applied for permits in Idaho and Montana. The current shipment sits 44 miles into its journey just outside Pendleton, Oregon awaiting a change in weather and the granting of travel permits for oversized loads through Idaho and Montana.

According to news reports published in the Kansas City Star, Miami Herald and Idaho Statesman, the Montana leg of the journey would begin at Lost Trail Pass, where U.S. Highway 93 crosses from Idaho into Montana. The company plans nightly stops south of Darby, at the Lolo weigh station, Bonner, the intersection of Montana Highway 200 and U.S. Highway 287, Valier and Cut Bank before crossing into Canada at the Port of Sweetgrass.

The unit being hauled is almost 380 feet long and weighs more than 900,000 pounds. The load is 19 feet high and 22 feet wide. It is 47% longer and 41% heavier than the load hauled over Lolo Pass in August.

The load was first delayed at the port by protesters on Monday night, December 2. The protesters opposed the shipment because it will cross tribal and environmentally sensitive lands and because the equipment is to be used in Canada’s tar sands oil development.

The protesters say recovering and burning tar sands oil is highly polluting. According to the East Oregonian newspaper, two were arrested Sunday after they used heavy steel tubes to lock themselves to the truck. As of Monday, December 9, the rig was still stalled outside Pendleton due to bad weather.

According to Adam Rush, Public Involvement Coordinator for the Idaho Department of Transportation Office of Communications, the megaload may arrive on the Idaho border by Thursday, depending on the weather. Rush said the agency was finishing up its bridge analysis and route evaluation and could issue a permit fairly quickly. The route will start near Homedale and run south of the Snake River to a river crossing near Mountain Home. Then it will travel north, including a 20-mile stretch along the Salmon River, before traversing the 7,014-foot Lost Trail Pass into Montana. The trip through Idaho should take five to six days, according to Rush.

More loads are planned in the coming months but no schedule has been published.

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