Tribes’ court action could halt megaload

Megaloads protest at Port of Umatilla Dec 2013.Photo source: Warrior Publications
Megaloads protest at Port of Umatilla Dec 2013.
Photo source: Warrior Publications


February 11, 2014

Christina Marfice of the Argus Observer

VALE—With the last of three Omega Morgan megaloads poised at the Port of Umatilla, waiting out winter weather before beginning its crawl across the state, several agencies have filed a court action seeking to halt it.

Peo Peo Mox Mox Chief — Headman of the Walla Walla Tribe Carl Sampson and ActOnClimate’s Peter Goodman filed a “petition for review of agency decision” Tuesday, alleging that the Oregon Department of Transportation failed to meet what they say is a legal obligation to determine whether the permit it issued last week for the megaload’s travel “serves the public interest.”

“The position of Sampson and Goodman is that these megaloads are not ordinary vehicles to be permitted on Oregon scenic highways using routine practices established for normal oversize loads, but that they are extraordinarily large industrial loads (longer than a football field and weighing up to 900,000 pounds), causing substantial harm to the citizens of Oregon and therefore not in the public interest,” reads a press release describing the action. “At the very least, they argue, ODOT should not be making a unilateral decision without a process for hearing public comments on whether these megaloads are in the ‘Public Interests.’”

ODOT spokesman Tom Strandberg said he sent out news releases about the megaloads, and ODOT visited the Umatilla Tribe. But he said he was not sure what else was done as far as outreach. He said public hearings are not part of the permitting process. But according to Monte Grove, ODOT’s Region 5 manager, ODOT is rethinking its process for public involvement in regards to permitting megaloads because they are getting bigger and bigger.

“And now here we are, in the middle of winter, with no formal notification, no Tribal consultation, no information to our Tribal members at our monthly council meetings that not one, but three monster megaloads are coming onto our ceded boundary lands,” Sampson wrote in a statement.

“Why did the Oregon Department of Transportation allow a variance permit of such magnitude on our sovereign and inherent Treaty rights, allowing interruption into our ceremonial, cultural, social and spiritual homelands without regard to the importance to our people?”

Omega Morgan adjusted its shipping route last year after a court ruling prohibited the Hillsboro-based shipping company from using Idaho’s Wild and Scenic River Corridor for megaload transport. Its circuitous route takes it from Umatilla to Pendleton, south on U.S. Highway 395 to Mount Vernon and east on U.S. 26 to Vale where it turns onto Clark Boulevard. It proceeds south to Highway 201 into Idaho near Homedale, then through Montana and into Canada, where its loads are bound for the tar sands oil fields in Alberta.

Christina Marfice is a news reporter at The Argus Observer. She can be reached at (541) 823-4822 or by emailing To comment on this story, go to

Lamprey returned to Yakima River basin


Lamprey release on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. (SARA GETTYS / Yakima Herald-Republic)
Lamprey release on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. (SARA GETTYS / Yakima Herald-Republic)

Posted on May 15, 2013

By Phil Ferolito

Yakima Herald-Republic

 WHITE SWAN, Wash. — After being largely absent for nearly a half-century, an old friend of the Yakamas — the Pacific lamprey — is being reintroduced to its home waters in the Yakima River basin.

On Tuesday, a handful of Yakama Nation biologists released 44 of the prehistoric, eel-like creatures into Toppenish and Simcoe creeks, where they have not been seen since the 1970s. The move is part of a larger project to restore the once vibrant Pacific lamprey not only in the Yakima River basin, but throughout the Northwest.

“This reintroduction is definitely a sacred time for our tribe,” project manager Patrick Luke said just before the release of adult lamprey into Simcoe Creek. “It’s just one step in a larger restoration project.”

After decades of considering lamprey a parasite that merely fed on other fish, federal and state authorities are now heeding what Northwestern tribes have long said — lamprey play an important role in the ecosystem and subsequently improve the survival rate of other species, such as salmon. Roughly 50 years ago, dams began blocking lamprey — which spend roughly two years in the ocean — from much of the Columbia River and its tributaries. With the ancient creature facing extinction, five states, along with federal agencies and several tribes, have embarked on a massive restoration project.

As part of a historic 10-year, $900 million fish-restoration accord the Army Corps of Engineers reached in 2008 with four Columbia River tribes — Yakama, Umatilla and Warm Springs — $5 million a year is being spent on lamprey restoration.

Although another species of lamprey is present in the Yakima River basin — Western brook lamprey that do not migrate — Tuesday’s release was the first significant step taken by the tribe to revive this anadromous creature to its ancestral waters, where they will spawn and hopefully return.

Although the cultural significance of the salmon to the Yakamas is generally understood, that of the lamprey has long been overlooked. They too were a staple in the diet.

Lamprey bring nutrients from the ocean to rivers and streams when they return to spawn. But lamprey also help protect salmon: Because they have a richer oil, birds and other predators usually feed on them first, biologists said.

“It’s a wonderful day for the lamprey and it’s also exciting for all the other species in the ecosystem,” said biologist Ralph Lampman.

Lamprey begin life as larvae and grow to about 2 feet long. Adults return to areas where they smell the baby larvae, Luke said. And the larvae offer nutrients as well, he said.

“What worms do in the ground is what lamprey do in the water as larvae,” he said.

Called asúm by the Yakamas, lamprey have existed for 450 million years and predate dinosaurs, according to fish biologists.

They once were prevalent throughout the Northwest, said Luke, who fished for them as a child.

“There would be so many, they’d turn the water black,” he said of the creature with a disk-shaped mouth lined with tiny, pointy teeth. “They used to call it the maiden hair.”

The lamprey released Tuesday were plucked from The Dalles and John Day dams, which they rarely make it past, and kept at the tribe’s hatchery in Prosser, project leader Luke said.

Hatchery supplementation will be used to restore lamprey, but the goal is to rebuild a natural run, he said.

Like a sucker fish, lamprey latch onto rocks to move through swift currents and to navigate falls. But when fish ladders were installed at dams, the lamprey wasn’t considered, Luke said.

Lamprey cannot make their way past the sharp corners of the weirs in fish tunnels and ladders. They need rounded edges they can move around, he said.

At the request of Columbia River tribes, the Corps of Engineers began looking at lamprey before the historic accord was signed, and installed two lamprey ramps at Bonneville Dam in 2002. Similar structures, which aren’t cheap, would need to be installed elsewhere throughout the Columbia and Yakima river basins to improve lamprey survival, Lampman said.

“That’s a really hard fix,” he said. “That’s not going to happen overnight.”

Meanwhile, efforts to use hatchery-raised lamprey and to relocate wild lamprey pulled from the lower Columbia River will continue, Luke said.

Today, Yakama biologists will release another group of lamprey into Satus Creek southeast of Toppenish. And next week, another release will occur at Ahtanum Creek near Union Gap.

“That’s why it’s so important,” he said. “We’re not going to win this war with giant steps — it’s going to be a lot of little steps.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that the Nez Perce are not part of the accord with the Army Corps of Engineers.

• Phil Ferolito can be reached at 509-577-7749 or