Megaloads go to court

Lawsuit questions whether transport is more good than harm

By George Plaven, East Oregonian

PENDLETON, Ore. — A third and final shipment of massive oil refinery equipment is bound for Canada after departing the Port of Umatilla earlier this week. But while the convoy lumbers south on Highway 395, opponents representing environmental and tribal concerns filed a petition in Marion County Circuit Court that would keep future loads off the road without increased public input.

Petitioners Peter Goodman, with the nonprofit organization Act on Climate, and Carl Sampson, headman-chief of the Walla Walla Tribe, allege the Oregon Department of Transportation didn’t properly consider public interest when permitting the loads hauled by Hillsboro trucking company Omega Morgan.

State law allows ODOT to issue variance permits for oversize loads “if it determines the public interests will be served.” Yet the department declined to hold public hearings, provide notice or allow any opportunity for comments, according to the petition.

If the petitioners succeed, a judge would order ODOT to set aside permits for megaloads until determining actual public interest. Goodman and Sampson are also asking for a permanent injunction against new variance permits until the department establishes rules for public involvement.

Patrick Cooney, ODOT communications director, did not discuss litigation but said the agency issues 100,000 permits every year. In broad terms, public interest is served by allowing movement of freight and commerce across the state, he said.

“We do that in such a manner that there’s no damage caused to the system by oversize loads,” Cooney said.

The petitioners, however, claim it is not enough to find something in the public interest by only examining potential damage to highways. It requires that, overall, more good than harm is done as a result of the loads.

Megaloads will eventually supply the tar sands of Alberta, Canada with machinery necessary to extract and ship oil, Goodman said, leading to global climate change.

“The cargo is so damaging to the environment,” he said. “The end result for climate change is really disastrous.”

At approximately 400 feet long, 22 feet wide and weighing more than 900,000 pounds, the megaloads take up both lanes on two-lane highways and are too big to fit under interstate bridges. The route being used now instead runs indirectly south into the John Day Valley and east toward Homedale, Idaho, before cutting back north through Montana and into Canada.

The loads travel approximately 35 mph, and are not permitted to drive in hazardous weather. Numerous delays have already slowed the first two shipments, which Omega Morgan began moving in December.

Protesters also held several demonstrations throughout the region, resulting in some arrests.

In addition to increased carbon emissions from tar sands oil, members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation oppose megaloads on their ceded territory.

Sampson — known ceremonially in the Walla Walla Tribe as Peo Peo Mox Mox, or Chief Yellowbird — asked how decades of government-to-government relations can simply be ignored to accommodate these loads in his affidavit to the court.

“Help me understand why we, the people of this land, have not had voice on such an important matter,” Sampson said. “The simple passage of these loads alone is an affront to the traditional values and ecological integrity of the lands I have been stood up by my people to protect. We have a strong tribal culture that will suffer irreparable damage if the megaload is not stopped.”

Omega Morgan project manager Erik Zander has said there is no plan to use the route as a long-term industrial corridor through Oregon. Goodman said they remain concerned about the possibility, especially as oil sands deposits are developed in Utah.

That’s why the public needs a voice in the ODOT permitting process, he said.

“We feel the citizens of Oregon should have a say,” Goodman said. “It is not worth risking planetary climate chaos for profit for relatively few people.”

_ Read more on eastoregonian.com. Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4547.

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 christinam@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.