Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Montana Judge stops Idaho's megaloads

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 10:59 AM

More than 200 megaloads slated to pass through central Idaho, western Montana and on to the Alberta tar sands project aren’t going anywhere — for now.

Missoula District Court Judge Ray Dayton issued a preliminary injunction late Tuesday to stop the over-legal loads, which are part of Imperial Oil’s Kearl Module Transport Project.

The Montana Department of Transportation had issued one permit to a test load currently sitting in Lolo, Mont., and was expected to issue more. In the injunction, Dayton said the department didn’t consider enough alternatives and didn't do a thorough environmental analysis of the loads.

Debate, protest and legal action have surrounded transport of the massive shipments through Idaho and Montana for more than a year. This is the latest victory for western Montana’s environmental advocates, including the National Wildlife Federation, the Montana Environmental Information Center and Montana’s chapter of the Sierra Club — all plaintiffs, along with Missoula County, in the ongoing case.

Jim Jensen, executive director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, says his group was “delighted” at the judge’s decision.

“This means there will be no megaloads coursing through scenic areas and converting them into industrial wastelands, at least in the foreseeable future,” Jensen says.

While this injunction is only temporary, Jensen says he expects the judge to issue a permanent victory to environmental activists. The court will decide final details of the case through a trial process or summary judgment, where each side submits its arguments in writing, this fall.

Montana Department of Transportation spokesperson Lori Ryan wouldn't comment on the department's reaction to the accusations of an insufficient environmental review, but says it is "a legal issue that will be worked out in the courts." 

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Heidi Groover

Heidi Groover is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers city government and drug policy. On the job, she's spent time with prostitutes, "street kids," marriage equality advocates and the family of a 16-year-old organ donor...