While a settlement was reached Jan. 27 restricting oversize loads traveling the Lochsa River corridor, the agreement will require shipping companies to receive two approvals. There are now two sets of guidelines for oversize loads and criteria must be met both through Idaho Transportation Department and the U.S. Forest Service.
Adam Rush, ITD public involvement coordinator, said “any overland transportation company that wants to move goods submits an application to ITD for approval. It also submits an application to the Forest Service for approval.”
Last year, ITD entered a negotiated process with the Forest Service, Rush said. ITD also met with the public in an effort to establish permitting criteria.
ITD communication manager Vince Trimboli said the department regulates use of state highways based on criteria for safety of both the travelling public and the environment. He said ITD limits load numbers, requires load inspections and escorts by law enforcement and emergency medical services, and requires safety lighting. It also requires any road modifications be approved in advance by the Forest Service.
Other limitations include requiring night travel at times and prohibiting loads during holidays, high traffic volume travel periods, and during hazardous weather conditions.
“[ITD] will apply our ‘State Safety and Travel Requirements’ and issue permits accordingly. We will then provide the Forest Service the opportunity to review our permits for this section of U.S. 12. Under their concurrent jurisdiction, the Forest Service will apply their criteria and decide whether or not to allow the loads.”
Rush said the permitting criteria goes into effect after this year’s legislative session concludes, with a target date set for March 24.
The settlement between the Nez Perce Tribe, the Forest Service and Idaho Rivers United (IRU) also heavily restricts travel along U.S. Highway 12. The compromise is the result of mediation efforts ordered by the Ninth District Circuit Court in 2015.
Under terms of the agreement, the Forest Service will allow two loads per month with transports not to exceed 16 feet in width, 150 feet in length, or 150,000 pounds will be allowed. Between the months of June and August, oversize shipments will be restricted to one load per month. Shipments exceeding any two of the three size criteria listed above will be prohibited.
The resolution follows court decisions stirred by controversy dating back to 2009. It began when Imperial Oil proposed the transport of about 200 loads, each weighing up to 300 tons and extending 29 feet wide, along the corridor en route to Canadian tar sands. The opposition feared the size and frequency of the shipments would negatively impact the scenic, recreational and amenity values of the corridor.
In 2011 and 2013, IRU and the tribe filed suit against the Forest Service seeking an injunction on certain oversized loads, referred to as megaloads. In September of 2013, the Forest Service was required to conduct a survey of travel along the corridor. The study was released in March of 2015.
The study reveals ITD issued overlegal permits on average two to three times per month between 1999 and 2012. The Forest Service could not find evidence that loads similar to those proposed by Imperial Oil were ever an historic use in the corridor.
“The corridor study has been instrumental in identifying the high value people place on the river corridor,” Leanne M. Marten, Region One forester, wrote in a letter to ITD. “Even those in favor of additional ‘megaloads’ do not want to see the character of the corridor changed.”
Trimboli issued a statement Jan. 27 in response to the decision.
“ITD developed its own rule after conducting a robust public involvement and outreach effort last summer,” he wrote. “ITD’s rule goes above and beyond the original Forest Service interim criteria and adds several new criteria specifically aimed at addressing safety and traffic concerns, while allowing for the free movement of commerce.”
Mary Jane Miles, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, stated in a press release the tribe is pleased with the terms.
“The Nez Perce Tribe has never opposed economic uses of this corridor that respect the values of this area. The Forest Service policy developed for use of this highway will allow meaningful commerce to continue to occur while also protecting the Lochsa River Corridor from use that, left unchecked, would transform this important historic byway into an industrial corridor.”
IRU Executive Director Kevin Lewis echoed the sentiment.
“These rivers anchor cathedral-like forests that inspire awe, reflection and reverence,” he said in a press release. “They are recreational Edens for fishermen, campers, hikers, hunters, bicyclists, history buffs, whitewater kayakers and rafters. Massive loads of industrial equipment do not belong here.”
In the 1960s, former Idaho Sen. Frank Church championed an effort to preserve rivers with natural, cultural, and recreational value. The Middle Fork of the Clearwater and its tributary, the Lochsa, were among the first rivers protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.