Bill Sedivy, the executive director of Idaho Rivers United, wanted his shot at responding to state Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, on the U.S. 12 "megaloads."
Winder wrote a guest opinion supporting the controversial shipments, and said outside "noise" from environmental groups jeopardizes a program that could provide an economic boost to North-central Idaho.
In a letter to Gov. Butch Otter today, Sedivy decried the "back-room deal making" surrounding the state-permitted shipments of oversized oil equipment from the Port of Lewiston.
"We know now that the permitting of the megaloads has been a done deal for some time. Your Transportation Department has been working for years with ExxonMobil to make these changes to the river corridors complete. They hid the truth about road projects in the corridor funded by ExxonMobil. They found ways to keep the Forest Service from doing its job to protect the rivers, and the recreationists who use the rivers and the Forest.
"But Governor, it’s not too late for you to step up and do the right thing for the remarkable Clearwater River Basin and its people."
Here's the full letter to Otter:
In 1968, Senator Frank Church showed real leadership and vision when he included the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River, along with its Lochsa and Selway tributaries, among the first eight rivers protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Here are a just a few reasons why these rivers were — and still are — considered nationally significant:
• They are recreational gems — coveted by Idahoans and visitors from across the nation for whitewater rafting and kayaking, and access to some of the finest camping, bird watching, hiking, hunting and fishing experiences in Idaho.
• They provide vital habitat for re-introduced salmon populations, and federally protected populations of wild steelhead and bull trout.
• The rivers and tributaries are important for wildlife, including deer, elk, otters, a variety of songbirds and unique waterfowl, like the spectacular Harlequin duck.
• The river corridors are important culturally and historically. They have provided hunting and fishing grounds, transportation corridors, village sites and special spiritual sites for the Nez Perce people for centuries. The rivers and the salmon they produced twice saved the Lewis & Clark Expedition from starvation.
The river corridors and the roadway that runs through them, U.S. Highway 12, also fuel an important tourism economy, one of few growing economic sectors in the Clearwater Basin in recent years. A nationally designated Scenic Byway and one of only 27 All-American Roads, Highway 12 itself brings thousands of visitors each year, including history buffs, cyclists, motorcycle riders and auto travelers from around the world.
Those unique attributes are just a few of the reasons that permitting the so-called megaloads along U.S. Highway 12 is a mega-mistake. The oil companies — among the most profitable in the world — have other options for getting equipment to their mine sites and refineries in Canada and Montana. The people of Idaho have only one Clearwater-Lochsa corridor.
These gargantuan loads, refinery drums bound for Billings, the mining equipment headed to Canada and the other ‘supersized’ loads that are sure to follow, will forever alter the scenic and peaceful character of this recreational and ecological Eden. The hundreds of permits sought by ExxonMobil are especially troublesome. They will block recreation opportunities and access to our National Forest and Wild & Scenic Rivers. They will alter spectacular scenery and increase danger for motorists using the winding Highway corridor at the height of the spring and summer tourist seasons. The meandering curves of Highway 12 and these pristine and protected rivers are not compatible with loads so large that they block traffic from both directions.
Protecting commerce, usual truck traffic and typical oversized loads is not the issue with the Conoco and ExxonMobil permits. The members of Idaho Rivers United accept the idea that Highway 12 is a gateway for commerce, as well as tourism and recreation on our public lands and rivers. But the Conoco and Exxon loads are extraordinary. At three stories tall, two lanes wide and up to 600,000 pounds each, these loads do not constitute the kind of normal highway use anticipated at the time of Wild & Scenic designation. The use of Highway 12 and the Wild & Scenic River corridors to move these massive shipments, does not, in our view, comply with State and Federal agreements and management plans calling for the protection of the Wild & Scenic corridor — and the recreational and scenic values those designations sought to protect.
The back-room deal making surrounding these loads has also been disturbing. Citizens were forced to go to court to have a say. But by then, it was too late. Decisions had already been made on the first of hundreds of megaloads bound for this corridor.
We know now that the permitting of the megaloads has been a done deal for some time. Your Transportation Department has been working for years with ExxonMobil to make these changes to the river corridors complete. They hid the truth about road projects in the corridor funded by ExxonMobil. They found ways to keep the Forest Service from doing its job to protect the rivers, and the recreationists who use the rivers and the Forest.
But Governor, it’s not too late for you to step up and do the right thing for the remarkable Clearwater River Basin and its people.
While the Conoco loads are moving, ExxonMobil’s proposed 207 loads have not yet been permitted. Please Governor, instruct your Transportation Department to listen to the concerns of citizens — not just corporations — in examining the next wave of loads. Listen to the cultural and historic concerns of the Nez Perce Tribe. Listen to the U.S. Forest Service, which opposes the loads, too. Please, encourage the Forest Service to undertake a thorough review of environmental, recreational, and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act concerns that have been raised.
The Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers are among Idaho’s most precious natural and recreational assets. Tell the oil companies that our most precious resources are not for sale. Put the brakes on the megaloads, until a meaningful social, economic and environmental assessment can be done.