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Restoring the Lower Snake River

NPTblockade1From the desk of Sam Mace. August 7, 2013 (photos by Kevin Taylor)

“We have no other alternative...if you turn the other cheek one too many times, you run out of face.” -- Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Silas Whitman

“Megaload” hauler Omega Morgan defied the Nez Perce Tribe and U.S. Forest Service Monday night and began moving its controversial tar sands equipment from the Port of Wilma on the banks of the Lower Snake River near Lewiston, ID on its route across the Nez Perce Reservation and Highway 12 along the Wild & Scenic Lochsa River.

Omega Morgan confronted a road blockade - 200 Nez Perce tribal members and supporters - at the reservation boundary at midnight. Lead by the Tribe’s Council, Nez Perce of all ages flooded the highway and stopped the looming mega load for over two hours. Tribal leaders, elders and supporters were arrested amid drumming and chanting.

“We have to make a stand. We’ve tried everyway diplomatically. People aren’t listening,” said Chairman Silas Whitman at a press conference before the blockade. Whitman noted that calls to the Idaho Governor and elected officials were met with silence.

NPblockade.CanoeCamp2I traveled down to Lewiston Monday evening to represent SOS’ support for the Nez Perce Nation. Personally, I’ve never witnessed anything as powerful. Elders, children and young people sat down on the road, blocking passage for a looming piece of equipment amid the flashing lights of police and a mega-load motorcade.

OM. police cleared the road and the mega-load managed another 3 miles on its journey. On the second night, it met another blockade. And the third night too. Nez Perce and supporters plan blockades every night the mega-load moves up the narrow, winding Highway 12. Given a 5-day permit to get the load to the Montana border at Lolo Pass, Omega Morgan is far behind schedule.

Save Our wild Salmon supports Nez Perce efforts to stop this equipment from reaching the Tar Sands mining operations in Alberta, a significant contributor to climate change and threat to Canada’s First Nations. Mega-loads threaten the health of a federally designated Wild & Scenic Lochsa River – home to ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.

Halting these shipments directly relates to SOS’ longstanding efforts to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the Columbia-Snake Rivers by restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River.

Lower Snake River Ports of Lewiston and Wilma are courting Big Oil to bring these loads up the Snake River. It’s a desperate attempt shore up shipping business for a waterway that is declining in viability and value to the region. More information on the upside-down economics of the waterway here. With few goods shipped on the river, the Ports are effectively asking local and national taxpayers to subsidize Big Oil transport costs to move loads that are environmentally, legally and morally objectionable.

The high taxpayer costs of maintaining this marginal shipping channel will increase even further if the Corps of Engineers moves forward with its plans to dredge the lower Snake waterway in the short-term, and raise levees in the long term. The Corps of Engineers is expected to release it’s final “Sediment Management/Dredging Plan within the month. Dredging is both expensive and extremely damaging to salmon habitat and clean water.

Meanwhile, for the third week in a row the water temperatures in the Ice Harbor Dam on the lower Snake River hit 70-plus degrees, lethal to salmon. Other reservoirs on the Columbia and Snake River are also approaching 70 degrees this summer. More information on the 'hot water' is available here. As regional temperatures rise this summer, the water behind the dams will become even hotter – and more harmful for endangered salmon and steelhead and other native species.

In the short-term we need to stop the mega-loads. Longer term, we need an honest assessment of what’s best for taxpayers, the lower Snake waterway and the wild salmon and steelhead that travel through it. It may not be four aging dams.

For information please contact me at

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