Mammoth trucks to invade northern Rockies, advance climate change
Mammoet. Dutch for “mammoth” …and that is exactly what we’re dealing with. Most people in northern Idaho and western Montana have probably heard about the giant trucks that are slated to cross the region on their way to Canada. Most don’t seem to know much else about it, though, which is not surprising. The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and the companies involved have been conspicuously quiet about the whole thing. Very little information has yet been made available, despite how soon the project is set to go forward. Inquiries to the MDT have been deflected to the companies and the companies are dragging their feet on reaching out to the public.
The trucks belong to Mammoet, a dutch company that specializes in, well… big stuff. They are the ones who lifted the Russian submarine “Kursk” up from the ocean floor, for example. Here in North America they primarily move giant pieces of mining equipment to the Alberta Tar Sands, which is exactly what they have recently been contracted to do. While the world condemns Canada and the U.S. for the countries’ lack of dedication to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and as citizens and sovereign First Nations across Canada fight desperately against further developement of tar sand operations in Alberta, the largest company in the world is quietly planning to spend the next couple of years transporting the devices of its apocalyptic industry across the Northwest.
Giant “modules” are being built in Korea and shipped to the Port of Portland, OR. There they will be loaded onto barges for transport up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to the Port of Lewiston, ID. Then Mammoet trucks take over.
The massive dimensions of the largest of the trucks, at twelve times the size of normal tractor-trailers, require that two lanes be used during transport, which on narrow roads like U.S. Highways 12 and 200 means that the whole road, both directions of traffic, will be shut down while these trucks go through at as little as five miles per hour on hills.
Once these trucks start rolling, it will be virtually impossible to travel anywhere along the route without suffering delays, especially over Lolo and Rogers Passes. Shipments are expected to occur three to five times per work-week for about a year and a half, including through the icy winter, for a total of over 200 shipments. By law, traffic can only be held up for ten minutes at a time, but once hundreds of turnouts have been built and countless power lines, signs and traffic signals have been refabricated to allow for these trucks’ massive size, there seems little likelihood that these laws will be enforced against a company (ExxonMobil) with an economy six times the size of Montana’s.
For turnouts (places for the trucks to pull over for traffic to pass) to be built, unknown ecological damage must occur. Of particular concern is the Lochsa River corridor in Idaho, a steep and narrow valley of almost no developement and many groves of old-growth cedar right along the roadside. For turnouts to occur every couple of miles, as the travel plan demands, they must be built either out into the river or else large portions of mountainside may have to be carved out. The impacts of these turnouts on the health of the river ecosystem and the species (some endangered and endemic) that rely on it are as yet unknown. There is some doubt that a thorough and honest environmental impact assessment will be possible before the project begins if the company intends to stay on schedule.
MDT does not yet know what level of environmental review will be required before issuing the permits, however, Jim Lynch, Director of MDT, has said that only the direct impacts these shipments will have on the state will be considered for issuance. They will specifically ignore any concerns about the effects of tar sand mining or the oil economy on the global environment. All of these permits combined will provide for each state only a few hundred thousand dollars while the economic impacts of traffic delays may far exceed that. Modification of the roadways appears to require only a few months of construction –if the initial test run occurs this summer as scheduled (no construction has begun as of this writing). Jobs creation, therefore, will be minimal and temporary. The ecological damage caused by road work, not to mention by the Canadian Tar Sands themselves, will be extensive and permanent.
In Idaho, and possibly Montana too, the success or failure of the initial test run this summer will determine whether the rest of the permits will be issued (though the turnouts will have to be built even just to make the test run). While the State sticks its fingers in its ears when confronted with the obvious fact that allowing these shipments to pass through constitutes complicity in climate chaos, it is up to us in the Northwest to do our part, in solidarity with Albertans, to stop this project from going forward.
As more information is made available to the public, we will post it here. For more background information about tar sand mining, click here. To learn more about how you can help confront Northwestern states’ complicity in destructive tar sand mining, contact us or check out the Alberta Tar Sands links in our Allies & Resources page. The only information produced by MDT about this for the public, including the precise route, can be read here.