Friday, December 13, 2013

Megaload inching closer to Idaho

Shipment delayed 2nd time because of weather

Express Staff Writer

A megaload of oil refinery equipment, destined to pass through Blaine County on its way to Canada, has now been delayed twice because of wintry weather in Oregon. It remains uncertain when the 450-ton, 376-feet long load will enter Idaho. Courtesy photo by E.J. Harris of the East Oregonian

     A megaload of oil refinery equipment, bound for Canada and destined to pass through Blaine County, resumed its trip through Oregon Tuesday night but pulled off the road again Wednesday evening, delayed for a second time by wintry weather.

     “We were only able to move 15 miles before weather and ice conditions prevented us from moving farther,” Holly Zander, spokeswoman for Omega Morgan, the Oregon company transporting the load, said Thursday.

     She said the shipment then was about 65 miles south of Pendleton and had traveled about 105 miles since it departed the Port of Umatilla in Oregon the evening of Dec. 2.

     “It’s uncertain if an attempt will be made to move it tonight,” Zander said. “It probably won’t be moving into Idaho until the 17th or 18th now. That’s my best estimate, but it’s all weather- and road-condition dependent.”

     Once it reaches the border, the shipment will enter the state near Homedale on U.S. Highway 19. It will eventually pass through southern Blaine County on U.S. Highway 20.

     The megaload, including the trucks and trailers used to move it, weighs more than 450 tons and is 376 feet long. It is the first of three shipments that Omega Morgan intends to ship through Oregon, southern Idaho and Montana to a tar sands oil refinery in Alberta, Canada.

     “There are three total, counting this one,” Zander said. “We’re looking at a December or January time frame. We have multiple rigs, so we don’t have to wait for this load to get back until we ship the next one.”

     Omega Morgan has been shipping smaller megaloads to the tar sands refinery through northern Idaho for the past few years. The larger loads, similar to the one headed for Idaho now, were transported through the state on U.S. Highway 12, which is designated a Wild and Scenic River corridor, until a federal judge in September barred shipments on the basis that environmental aspects had not been adequately assessed.

     Zander said Omega Morgan does not intend that the southern Idaho route be used routinely, but said “we still have our commitment to our customers to make delivery.”

     Meanwhile, the Idaho Transportation Department has not yet issued a permit for the load to traverse Idaho, but is likely to do so before the shipment reaches the state.

     “I don’t anticipate that a permit won’t be granted,” ITD spokesman Adam Rush said Wednesday. “We routinely issue overweight permits. It’s just a matter of choosing the right route.”

     Rush said ITD considers Omega Morgan a responsible company.

     “They routinely move a lot of loads, and they’ve been good at working with this,” he said. “This is a company we’ve worked with before and we’re working with them on this shipment, too.”

     The southern Idaho route passes through three different ITD districts and Rush said staff in each of the districts is still evaluating the shipment.

     In Oregon, the megaload is only allowed to move at night, but when the shipment can move through Idaho has not yet been decided.

     “That may be during the daytime in one district and nighttime in another,” Rush said. “But that’s something the district staff is evaluating. We hope to know by the end of the week.”


Protests being planned

     Once the shipment reaches Blaine County, it will pass through Timmerman Junction, where U.S. 20 meets state Highway 75 and where a protest is being planned by a Moscow-based environmental group.

     “We’re trying to connect with some folks in your area,” said Helen Yost, community organizer with Wild Idaho Rising Tide.

     Even if local environmentalists don’t support the protest, Yost said supporters from elsewhere intend to protest the shipment here.

     Three protesters already delayed the shipment on Dec. 1 when it was scheduled to leave Umatilla, either by chaining themselves to the load or by standing in front of it.

     “That’s up to individuals if they want to do something like that,” Yost said. “What we’re looking at are protests that aren’t trying to block it, and if we were planning to block it we wouldn’t talk about it in advance because that would ruin the plan.

     “We want to make the point that Idaho is no place for tar sands equipment.”

     Yost said Wild Idaho Rising Tide opposes the megaload shipments because they damage roads and bridges but the group is mainly concerned with “climate control.”

     She said that extracting petroleum products from the Alberta tar sands causes irreversible environmental damage, leads to large emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, pollutes both ground and surface water and ruins wetlands used by numerous species of migrating waterfowl.

     Meanwhile, the Blaine County commissioners issued a letter last week to ITD expressing their concerns about the megaload shipments. The commissioners asked ITD to make sure that the loads not unduly disrupt traffic, that public safety not be compromised, that emergency vehicles not be delayed, that the loads not damage roads and bridges and that the equipment “be in good repair and free of residue, liquids, debris or leaks that risk environmental contamination.”

     Commission Chairman Larry Schoen said in an interview last week that the commission’s concerns should not be interpreted as an attempt to stop the shipments.

     “We need refinery capability to increase oil output,” Schoen said. “To block megaloads just because you don’t like the use of petroleum products, I just don’t get the connection.”

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