Megaload Decision a Blow to
by Rocky Barker
The decision by Imperial Oil to route future over-sized shipments of mining equipment to its Canadian oil sands project is a blow to Idaho's Port of Lewiston.
The Exxon/Mobil subsidiary announced its plan Monday to ship its remaining loads by interstate highway instead of the controversial U.S. 12 Route up the Lochsa Wild and Scenic river corridor. It also said it will begin planning on shipping additional loads through the Port of Pasco, Wash.
"We will continue to pursue the permits for those full-sized modules through Idaho and Montana, which is more efficient and cost effective. Chris Allard, Kearl senior project manager said. "However, we will also move forward with alternative routes to maintain project schedules."
A court victory by environmentalists in Montana kept that state from approving the U.S. 12 route. Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness was awaiting Montana's approve to issue a permit here. The delays and most important, the uncertainty were too much for Imperial.
Uncertainty remains the major obstacle to the future of the Port of Lewiston. Since the federal government began seriously considering breaching the four dam on the lower Snake River in Washington in the 1990s, Lewiston and the Port have struggled to develop new business around the barge access to the Pacific.
The build-up of sediment in the Lewiston area has contributed to the uncertainty when another environmental lawsuit over endangered salmon prevented dredging. The Corps of Engineers proposals to raise the levies along Lewiston's waterfront have had mixed support at best.
The over-sized shipment opportunity seemed to offer the Port the new business it needs. But a port without roads is not a port.
"Our region may well lose out on the chance to demonstrate the advantages of river freight transportation for this and future projects," said Doug Mattoon, Executive Director of Lewiston/Clarkston economic development agency, Valley Vision. "Regional transportation policies that protect our economic future should be set by local residents, not by outside activists."
The fact is the opposition was made up of a mix of local residents concerned about access to their highway, state and regional activists hoping to undercut the development of the Port of Lewiston and national activists opposed to development of the Kearl oil sands region.
The decision comes on the heels of a more far-reaching court decision by U.S. District Judge James Redden striking down the biological opinion on the Columbia and Snake river federal dams. The federal government is going to have to write a new plan by the end of 2013 and removal of the four dams is clearly one of the alternatives that will have to be considered.
Imperial's decision will once again point out the advantages of the Port of Pasco, the home of the four dams' strongest political defender U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings. It also will continue the polarization between Idaho's traditional economic interests and those people and businesses that benefit from salmon and wild places.
But lost in all of the discussions about dam removal is the fact it won't happen overnight even if the region approves it. After all, Congress approved removing the Elwha dams 20 years ago and onlt this year will these much smaller dams come out. The deal that resolved the Klamath River controversy keeps its dams in place until 2020.
So no matter what happens the businesses of Idaho and beyond that use Lewiston will need economic transportation options in the short and long term. The group of community, business, and agricultural leaders formed to support the megaload shipments in Idaho, Drive Our Economy, has the potential to expand its voice into the salmon-dam issue the way the Idaho Water Coalition did to advocate to protect Idaho's water.
Salmon advocates want new regional talks that have dam removal on the table. We'll see if the Idaho and regional interests can find a way to advance their causes across a negotiating table instead of in a court room.
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