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Big Oil Threatens Adventure Cycling Routes

Would you want to bike with this? That tiny truck on the right is a logging truck.

If you’ve been reading the Eugene Weekly, you may already know that Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil is planning to ship hundreds of tons of oil equipment up the Columbia River, destined for the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada as part of the Kearl Module Transport Project (KMTP).  What you may not have realized is that once those shipments reach Lewiston on the Washington/Idaho border they will then be loaded on to gigantic, multi-lane wide trucks weighing upwards of 500,000 lbs and driven on the Adventure Cycling Trans America and Lewis & Clark Trails (Highway 12) through the Idaho panhandle into Missoula, Montana, and beyond. The route directly impacts 175 miles of Adventure Cycling Routes, including the above-mentioned trails, the Great Parks North Trail, and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail.

I understand that this has little to do with Eugene.  I’m writing about it because I’ve ridden the Highway 12 route over Lolo Pass and into Missoula (the location of the Adventure Cycling Headquarters) twice as part of two separate cross-country tours, and it is one of the most scenic and peaceful bike routes that I’ve ever seen.  In fact, I’d be tempted to say that it’s the best place I’ve ever ridden a bike.  Putting 500,000 lb trucks on this road will destroy the pavement (semi-trucks generally max out at 80,000 lbs), and the infrastructure changes they are planning to do to the roads will open this road up as a permanent mega-shipping route.  This is a French company shipping Korean-made products on Dutch trucks to a Canadian work-site, and it will destroy one of our country’s  most prestigious scenic byways and flagship bike routes.

Take the jump to learn more about the plan, route, and if we can do anything about it.  I highly recommend the video at the bottom of this post.

This is a complicated issue, and I’ll admit that I’m joining this fight awfully late.  However, I haven’t seen anything on the bike blogs about this, and that worries me.  The KMTP has been fought on many fronts, but little from the bike front. The purpose of this post is to fix that.  Spread the word.

Before we begin, lets get an idea of how big these things actually are.  View this short (rather dramatic) 26 second video of similarly sized ConocoPhillips trucks that are hoping to use the road as well if Exxon is granted permission:

YouTube Preview Image

The Montana Department of Transportation completed an environmental assessment (pdf) of the project last spring, and there was a 30-day public comment period on the assessment beginning April 14, 2009.  The environmental assessment (EA) detailed many infrastructure changes that would have to take place on the route, including the construction of hundreds of highway modifications, including buried electric lines and dozens of turnouts.  While the EA considers this a one-time use of the road for Imperial Oil’s 200 loads, it’s become clear that this is in reality the construction of a permanent corridor for heavy shipping directly on top of several Adventure Cycling routes.

An April 27th article in the Missoulian states: (emphasis mine)

[...]

Some of Imperial Oil’s 200 or more loads, to be transported weeknights over the course of a year, will be as high as a three-story building, as wide as a two-lane highway and nearly three-quarters of a football field in length.

The company will spend $21.6 million in Montana for permits and hundreds of highway modifications to accommodate the loads on a route from Lolo Pass to the Port of Sweetgrass, via Missoula, the Blackfoot River Valley and the foothills of the Rocky Mountain Front.

[...]

“It’s not just a conspiracy theory that it will be a permanent corridor,” said Barbara Hall, legal director for the Clark Fork Coalition. “It’s acknowledged by seemingly everyone else besides the state of Montana in the environmental assessment.”

“The Port of Lewiston has come out and said this is a newly discovered route. Once it’s set, other oil companies will use it. They’re excited about that because it’s revenue for Idaho.”

This theory is supported by several other developments. A recent Sept 13th article in the Missoulian explains:

Twice last week, 2nd District Judge John Bradbury asked what a lot of people would like to know:

Why would ConocoPhillips spend $9 million barging massive oil processing equipment to the Port of Lewiston before getting the permits required to truck those mega loads up U.S. Highway 12?

To make that kind of commitment without assurances would be, Bradbury said, “odd.”

The judge didn’t get much of an answer. One lawyer said the oil company “had a sense” the permits would be issued. Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness said the department hadn’t prejudged the matter.

So, what will these loads actually look like, besides being gigantic?  A May 20th Editorial in the Missoulian has some insight:

[...]

The initial KMTP rigs along with three pilot cars and two police escorts at all times would shut down the highway for local use. They also would require massive increases in shoulder space and building hundreds of additional turnouts.

Additionally, the rigs themselves are made in Korea, to be used by a non-U.S. company in Canada, so we basically are sacrificing a unique American wild place for the benefit of foreign countries.

[...]

We want alternatives, and there are alternatives. In August 2008 a 400-ton Japanese-made module was shipped to the oil sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta, via Thunder Bay and the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada.

It’s clear that this is a bad idea, and it’s also clear that there are alternative routes. Besides the one quoted above I’ve found mention of several others in various articles that I’ve read.  There is no need to destroy one of our only (and best) bicycle touring routes.

It’s also clear that this is dangerous. In fact just today a regular sized oil tanker crashed along highway 12 in Idaho due to a tight curve and dumped 7,500 gallons of diesel fuel into a ditch opposite the river.  Luckily none got in the river, this time.

The Eugene Weekly has published a few articles on this issue, mainly focusing on the Columbia River aspect of the project, but they do give us some information on the impact on the road (although I’m not sure they are aware it’s a bike route).

Quotes from their Sept 9th Cover story:

[...]

[Imperial Oil's Rolheiser] says, “Generally speaking, the route we selected was driven by the size of the modules. The modules are too large to be transported on an interstate highway.” Anything with an overpass, he says, “is a non-starter.”

Once the loads are removed from the barges at the Port of Lewiston, they will be placed onto massive Mammoet truck and trailer rigs (mammoet is Dutch for mammoth). The trailers, Rolheiser says, have up to 14 axles. He says the distribution force on a highway roadbed is like a semi truck.

[ Winona] LaDuke and [Patricia] Weber are skeptical — 207 loads, weighing up to 500,000 pounds, amounts to a little bit more than a semi-truck, which legally tops out at 80,000 pounds.

The route crosses bridges, goes over tall mountain passes and through national forests and tribal lands, and along a wild and scenic river. The monster loads start in Idaho and take Highway 12, following the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway through wild areas along the wild salmon and steelhead bearing Lochsa River in Idaho, over Lolo Pass into Montana through the town of Missoula, up Highway 200, over the Continental Divide and then up to Canada.

The route follows a road more narrow and windy than Oregon’s Highway 126 out the McKenzie, and like that highway, it is right up against a river. It goes through Missoula — a college town not unlike Eugene. Bob Gentry, a Montana attorney working to stop the loads, says that traffic signals in Missoula would be put on swivel bases to let the loads pass.

So what is being done?  Can anything be done?  When will this happen?  Some time-lines that I found from last spring slated this project to begin this October, but I can’t imagine that the infrastructure changes have been completed yet.  However, a commenter on an anti-KMTP Facebook site stated that the electrical lines (to support truckers stranded in weather) are already being buried along the road.  It’s hard to find information about whether or not the states involved in this process have or are going to issue the permits.

The Weeky’s Sept 9th Cover Story profiles several activists who are fighting the project and the Sept 30th Eugene Weekly provides this update:

After being alerted to the issue by a constituent, [Congressman Peter DeFazio] spoke to EW about the Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil plan to use the Northwest as a route for the machinery for the Kearl oil sands project, and said he wrote a letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. DeFazio said in the letter that he is “opposed to subsidizing ExxonMobil oil sands mining in Canada with taxpayer dollars.” The Associated Press and major papers picked up on the story and soon Montana’s congressional delegation was protesting that it’s a state issue, not a federal issue. The Washington Post wrote about it this week.

Zack Porter, campaign coordinator for All Against the Haul says, “There is no question that this is a federal issue.” A letter signed by representatives of 40 groups including Sierra Club chapters, Conservation Northwest, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association points out that a number of federal agencies from the Forest Service to the Army Corps of Engineers are involved in the project, and argues that the “initial year of shipments, and the permanent high and wide corridor thus created through the Northwest to the tar sands, constitute a major federal action.”

The letter, a copy of which went to congressional delegations of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington argues that the “800-mile project has been ‘piecemealed’ by federal and state agencies, with each examining only a narrow slice of the total project.”

Adventure Cycling themselves haven’t been silent either. During the April public comment period they sent a letter to the Montana DOT opposing the project, but it’s unclear how much affect this has had.  From what I can tell there is no high-visibility coordinated effort from cyclists to save this corridor as a premier bike route. We need to get this information out to all cyclists.  This kind of slimy thing will be a lot harder for Imperial Oil to pull off if the whole country is watching.

There is a group coming through Eugene on a tour to protest the KMTP.  The Northern Rockies Rising Tide organization is fighting the project in many ways, including Critical Mass rides.  They are coming to the University of Oregon on Wednesday, October 6th for some sort of event.  (Time and Location TBA)

So what can you do?  Spread the word.  E-mail your representatives in congress and tell them that this project has federal implications and ask them to require that a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be done before granting any permits. Tell other bikers, bloggers, magazines, and newspapers.  Attend the Eugene event or one in your area (assuming they materialize).  Make a stink.   Do something.  Do anything.

For even more information on the KMTP, and a great primer on the area if you haven’t had a chance to visit, enjoy this video: Highly Recommended

YouTube Preview Image

14 comments to Big Oil Threatens Adventure Cycling Routes

  • Seager,

    Wow, thanks for researching and bringing this our attention! I haven’t ridden this specific section but have ridden many Adventure Cycling routes and can imagine what a horrible impact this would have not only for the cycling but also the communities around there.

    As we move into a more depleted oil world we will see more extreme measures to extract oil and our addiction will make previous inconceivable manners of getting it seem normal. The tar fields of Canada have a lot of oil reserves, they are just more dirty and harder to handle than other fields but in our NEED to have oil we should plan on seeing some extreme measures like this and we need to counter them as much as possible.

  • Stephen

    I rode the Trans Am trail West to East back in 1980 (yes, 30 years ago). My biggest problem at that point was Mt. St. Helens erupting the day we started from Portland. I suspect that I rode on highway 12, but I can’t say for sure. My recollection is that the entire area (actually the entire route) is terrific. Ok, so I am somewhat biased in my opinion (I’m a Life Member).
    Coal, cattle, logging and regular 18-wheel trucks were enough of a problem on the road. Adding these behemoths to the roads is not a good idea at all. I’ve retweeted the post I saw via ACA. I am going to go to the facebook page and see what I can via their links.

  • mhwygirl

    Thanks so much for bringing this issue to the attention of the cycling world! There’s a lot being done locally to stop this crazy proposal but we need all the help we can get because our state politicians seem hellbent on pleasing these big oil corporations at the expense of local residents, the traveling public and the american taxpayer. Three Idaho residents took the Idaho Transportaion Department to court to stop the first round of shipments planned by ConocoPhillips – they won in district court and the judge revoked the permits but ConocoPhillips appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court and got an expedited hearing which just started today in Boise(the average wait to have a case heard at that level is 10months -they only had to wait 1.) If you’d like more information you can visit http://www.fightinggoliath.org and also visit http://www.sayingnotogoliath.blogspot.com for summaries and links to articles on this issue. Also please sign our petition to protect this route at http://www.petitiononline.com/k12sfw/petition.html
    thanks again and please share this info with everyone you know!

  • John M

    I can’t say that I’m worried about the weight of the trucks and their load because the real issue is weight per wheel and they will have lots of wheels on the ground spreading the weight around.

    I am more troubled by the construction of many turnouts and other things that will result in wider roads and in the destruction of the wild lands along the highway.

    It is also troubling that this does sound like the first of many trips that will be made over this route and that will lead to degradation of the environment.

    I would have thought that taking US 95 north out of Lewiston and going to Couer D’Alane and then taking I-90 East would have been a better choice. Less work to make the route safe and fewer weather related issues.

  • 250,000 pound permits are issued all the time. They put lots of axles under the entire length of the trailer to spread the weight.

  • Josh P

    Weight per wheel is the important factor for smaller trucks, but something this massive can deform the entire road bed, not just the pavement on top of the road bed.

    Trucks this size can easily cause tens of millions of dollars in damage to infrastructure. Will the companies involved be held responsible for road wear, or will the taxpayer foot the bill?

  • Oliver

    “I would have thought that taking US 95 north out of Lewiston and going to Couer D’Alane and then taking I-90 East would have been a better choice. Less work to make the route safe and fewer weather related issues”

    Sure, but quite a lot more (multi) million dollar vacation homes. The people who invest in Big Oil are won’t have it trucked past their doorstep.

    Not gonna happen.

  • John

    Well, I don’t see that this is some big deal. Highway 12 really is a highway that was installed for cars and trucks to drive on. It’s not some dedicated hiking or bike bath with no motor vehicles. I’m an engineer, and believe the real factor is weight per wheel/axle, and that people will really evaluate whether the roads or bridges can accommodate the weight. This happenes all around the country all the time for power plants, factories, chemicals plants, and so on. It’s certainly not like it’s never been done before, or that these things will be permanant fixtures on the highway. They’ll drive through, and then be gone. There are probably alternative routes, as many readers have suggested, but no one knows whether they are better overall – just that they exist.

  • DaviD Gizara

    I’d like to direct everyone to read the article in the May/June 2008 edition of the magazine Mother Jones titled, “Scenes From The Tar Wars”. It is a good article giving first hand accounts of the horrible damage being done to the environment and the population involved in tar sand oil extraction. Any opportunity to oppose this disastrous plunder of the earth should be embraced, whether making it difficult to ship the equipment needed to sustain it, or, most importantly, maintaining a lifestyle that uses very little oil — biking and walking. I want to point out that mining the lithium used in “green” automobiles is no better. Walk or bike, please.

  • Michael

    My wife and I rode across America in 1971, before there were Adventure Cycling routes. Interestingly, our route from San Francisco to Portland to New York quite closely matched today’s AC route. I still can describe in detail our ride following the Lewis and Clark trail, from the wonderful crisp light to the searing heat to jumping off the bikes to cool in the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers. At every stop, we read from the journals of Lewis and Clark.
    Highway 12 is a national treasure that needs to be driven (or, better, biked) slowly in appreciation. Congratulations to Idaho and Montana for sacrificing a National Scenic Byway to a component part of the worst oil project on the planet.

  • S. Douglass

    Do we have all the facts yet?
    What about the 500,000 lb comment-no individual load will go over that pavement that is anywhere near that large. But the way it is worded allows the uninformed to believe that.
    The large permit fees should be going to possible/probable repair of the road. I have motorcycled this beautiful road and I certainly don’t want any harm done to it but lets at least get the facts straight.

  • Actually, I have several sources that say the largest shipment will be “210 feet long, 30 feet high, 24 feet wide and weighing about 500,000 pounds.”

  • aobike

    If you’re looking for more info, there was an article about this in the New York Times yesterday:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/22/business/energy-environment/22road.html?src=me&ref=business

  • aobike

    And in response to the comment about shipment size, from said article:

    “According to plans submitted to state regulators, some of the shipments would weigh more than 600,000 pounds, stand as tall as a three-story building, stretch nearly two-thirds the length of a football field and occupy 24 feet side-to-side — the full width of U.S. 12′s two lanes for much of its course through Idaho.”