Environment | Law | National

New Yorker: Nez Perce Tribe takes stand against megaloads





The Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho took a stand against megaload shipments through the reservation and through its treaty territory:
Last summer, a subsidiary of General Electric, Resources Conservation Company International (R.C.C.I.), began moving even larger machinery along the Highway 12 route. R.C.C.I. and its Oregon-based moving company, Omega Morgan, are under contract to deliver eight mega-loads of water evaporators and water-purification units to Alberta. The U.S. Forest Service expressed concerns about Omega Morgan’s route, but the Idaho Transportation Department permitted the new mega-loads, and Omega Morgan ordered its trucks to proceed. For the Nez Perce tribe, which had been sitting on the legal sidelines, that decision signalled a turning point.

“I’ve been at this for forty years and seen the way that they have treated the corridor,” Silas Whitman, the chairman of the Nez Perce tribal executive committee, said. “I saw the loads start out as logging trucks, then freight haulers, then hazardous materials. They had several accidents,” he said. “But it has always been a trail through our homeland.”

When he learned about R.C.C.I.’s gargantuan evaporators, Whitman and his council decided to take action. In the early-morning hours of August 6th, as the Omega Morgan trucks lumbered toward the reservation, the Nez Perce, joined by volunteers from Laughy and Hendrickson’s network, stormed the highway and blocked the road for several hours. “It was dramatic,” Laughy recalled. “The basalt walls of the canyon were echoing with that singing the tribe does, low guttural singing with high-pitched sounds.” Idaho State Police troopers arrested Whitman, the tribal council, and a dozen other tribe members, and charged them with disorderly conduct. Two days later, the Nez Perce and Idaho Rivers United filed a federal lawsuit against the Forest Service, again claiming that the agency was breaching the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and also alleging that it was violating the tribe’s federally insured land rights.

In September, the federal judge B. Lynn Winmill issued a temporary injunction in the tribe’s favor, basing his decision on the terms of the land rights outlined in the U.S.-Nez Perce treaty of 1855. The ruling immediately blocked Omega Morgan from driving its oversized trucks along the route, a closure that R.C.C.I. estimates will cost it nearly eighty-four million dollars in lost revenue in the next year. (The company is now trying to get to Alberta using different roads and is behind schedule to deliver its machinery there.) After attempting to stay the injunction, R.C.C.I. dropped out of the case, but the Forest Service maintains that mega-loads fall outside of its domain, because the highway belongs to the State of Idaho, not the federal government, according to Phil Sammon, a Forest Service spokesman. The Forest Service is deciding whether to appeal the decision.

Get the Story:
Another Oil-Sands Challenge: Transporting Equipment (The New Yorker 3/18)

Related Stories:
Walla Walla Tribe files petition against megaloads in Oregon (02/11)
Warm Springs Tribes concerned about megaload shipments (11/26)
New route through Oregon and Idaho for megaload shipment (11/22)
Al Jazeera: Nez Perce Tribe battles big energy shipments (10/14)
Nez Perce Tribe stands up for treaty rights in megaload case (09/26)
Editorial: Idaho to blame for mess over megaload shipment (9/23)
Gabe Galanda: Decision favors Nez Perce Tribe's treaty rights (9/18)
Nez Perce Tribe wins decision against 2nd megaload shipment (9/13)