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Conoco Mega-loads a Go; Others Pending

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ConocoPhillips has gotten permission to begin moving four mega-loads of mining equipment from Lewiston to Billings, Mont. The first two loads were scheduled to be moved on Feb. 1 and the remaining two a little later. Plans call for safety to be a priority, with loads pulling over every 15 minutes to allow cars to pass and only traveling between midnight and 6 a.m. to minimize problems. The group Friends of the Clearwater plans to monitor this to see if these stipulations are adhered to. The Kearl Project scheme to transport 207 loads all the way to Alberta is still on hold.

The mega-loads, huge pieces of mining equipment that are several times the size of a logging truck, fill both lanes of Highway 12 as it winds alongside the wild and scenic Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers. The route is named the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway and essentially follows the route that Lewis and Clark traveled.

Earlier this week the tribe was winding down a months-long fight to stop all such transport because it would run just 50 feet from the Nez Perce's birthplace.

There has been less opposition to the ConocoPhillips plan because it involves a much smaller number of mega-loads and benefits the regional economy in Montana. This does not entirely cancel out Nez Perce concerns about interference in tribal member traffic on the highway or the route’s proximity to the birthplace of the Nez Perce people.

The Kearl Project entails sending 207 loads along the same highway into Montana, then north to Alberta. The sheer volume and much longer time factor makes it of greater concern to the Nez Perce.