By ERIC BARKER of the Tribune | Posted: Friday, October 25, 2013 12:00 am
The company blocked by court order from moving its giant water purification equipment through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest on its way to Canadian oil fields has abandoned its legal efforts to reverse the injunction.
Resources Conservation Company International, a subsidiary of the General Electric Co., filed documents Thursday signaling it would voluntarily drop its emergency motion to stay the injunction and its appeal.
According to a statement issued by GE, the company abandoned the appeal because of "ongoing uncertainty regarding timely delivery of properly permitted shipments. Because this technology is important to our customers and to improving the environmental impact of oil recovery operations, GE, instead, will focus on alternative shipment options."
Last month, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered the U.S. Forest Service to block the shipments from using a 100-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 12 that passes through the forest and the Lochsa/Middle Fork of the Clearwater Wild and Scenic River Corridor. The ruling followed a lawsuit filed by the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United.
The company asked Winmill to reconsider, but the judge reached the same conclusion when he reconsidered the ruling earlier this month. The company filed an appeal following Winmill's second ruling, but pulled the plug Thursday.
Through its contracted hauler Omega Morgan, the company did ship one megaload - a 21-foot-wide, 255-foot-long evaporator weighing 644,000 pounds - from the Port of Wilma to Montana and eventually Canada via the narrow highway that twists along the two rivers. The August shipment sparked four nights of protests and dozens of arrests and eventually led to the lawsuit.
The U.S. Forest Service, the original defendant in the case, joined RCCI's motion to reconsider, which was ultimately rejected by Winmill. Rick Brazell, supervisor of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, said he did not know if his agency would file an appeal. According to court documents filed in the case, the agency believes it doesn't have the power to stop highway traffic, based on the federal code cited by Winmill in his injunction order.
"I don't know what our legal team will do," he said. "I'm curious to know what happens with us."
Brazell said he is confident other shippers will continue to find the route attractive. Highway l2 is free of overpasses that can prevent the shipment of massively oversized loads. Those looking to use it also like the fact that they can barge their loads 400 miles inland to ports in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley via the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Brazell said his agency would continue to work on its ongoing study of the effects of megaload traffic on the intrinsic and cultural values of the Highway 12 corridor. It will also move forward with consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe following the study.
Winmill ruled the Forest Service improperly allowed megaloads to proceed prior to completing the study and consulting with the tribe.
Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Silas Whitman said he was pleased to hear RCCI dropped its appeal, but the tribe also suspects the battle over the route will continue.
"It is important to understand this is only one small part of the overall effort needed to protect an area that has special significance to not only the Nez Perce people but people throughout the United States because of its cultural and intrinsic value," he said.
Barker may be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.