The Forest Service has settled a lawsuit with a conservation group and an Idaho Indian tribe that will allow oversized truck loads to resume using a two-lane federal highway through an environmentally-sensitive section of the Idaho Panhandle. But the settlement essentially bans so-called megaloads of oil equipment destined for the oil sands in Alberta.
In 2013, the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United sued the Forest Service to stop the megaloads from using the two-lane U-S Highway 12 through national forestland between Lewiston, Idaho and the Montana border. The shipments of oil equipment bound for Canada were seen as dangerous to the corridor where the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers run.
The transportation companies moving the equipment want to use the highway because it’s the shortest distance from Lewiston, where the equipment is barged from the Pacific Ocean.
The Forest Service claimed it didn’t have the authority to close the highway to the big trucks, but the lawsuit had that effect. There hasn’t been a huge rig to pass through since the lawsuit was filed.
The settlement comes after three years of mediation. On Thursday, Regional Forester Leanne Marten set out the restrictions for oversize vehicle travel on the highway in a letter to the Idaho Transportation Department, which issues permits to the big rigs.
The settlement limits oversize loads to an average of two per month for trucks with loads wider than 16 feet or longer than 150 feet or heavier than 75 tons. Kevin Lewis from Idaho Rivers United says that effectively bans the megaloads, because they often exceed at least two of those criteria. The settlement also calls for fewer of the larger trucks during the summer when more vacationers are using the highway.
Mary Jane Miles, the chair of the tribe’s executive committee, says the settlement allows the highway to continue to be used for meaningful commerce, while protecting the integrity of the land through which it runs.
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