Idaho groups working to settle megaload lawsuit

THE ASSOCIATED PRESSApril 10, 2014 

More than 100 onlookers gathered in Marsing on Dec. 28, 2013, to watch a megaload move through town.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com

Idaho Rivers United and the Nez Perce Tribe are in mediation with the U.S. Forest Service to end a lawsuit concerning the huge loads on Idaho 12.

Idaho Rivers United's Kevin Lewis said Wednesday that the groups are seeking to have the federal agency come up with specific rules concerning gigantic loads traveling on the Northern Idaho route that includes a federally designated Wild and Scenic River corridor as well as tribal land.

"What we need is a management plan," he said. "We need the Forest Service to figure out what its rules are going to be on (Idaho) 12."

The groups sued the Forest Service last year after Idaho approved a megaload traveling the route, and in September U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a preliminary injunction halting shipments.

His ruling required the Forest Service to conduct a corridor review, and the agency on Monday released a 38-page document attempting to assess impacts the giant loads have passing through the twisting route.

The agency also tried to define the intrinsic value of the area.

The document should help with the mediation, said Forest Service spokesman Phil Sammon, based in Missoula, Mont.

"We were trying to give some better sideboards to the discussion so we can all move forward," he said. "We do want to come to a mutually agreed-on decision that satisfies the needs of everyone involved."

Sammon didn't have information on how the mediation was going, and Lewis declined to comment. It's unclear what the next step would be should mediation fail. "A lot of this is really uncharted territory," Lewis said.

A General Electric Co. subsidiary that had hoped to move the megaloads intervened in the lawsuit on the side of the Forest Service, and it sought an emergency motion to stay Winmill's injunction. But Resources Conservation Co. International dropped out in October, saying in a statement the equipment it was trying to move was important to its customers, and it would find alternate shipment options.

It had wanted to move a 225-foot-long, 640,000-pound load, traveling at night and requiring sections of the highway to be closed for short times. It had moved a similar megaload over the route in August, and 20 protesters were arrested trying to block the way, including Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Silas Whitman.

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