by Deanna Pan
District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill sided with the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United today, granting an injunction to stop future megaload shipments along north Idaho's scenic Highway 12 until the U.S. Forest Service completes a corridor study and consults with tribal members.
“We definitely think it's a milestone not only for the Nez Perce tribe, but for all the tribes in the United States because it reaffirms the importance of [the federal government's] consultation as a trustee to the tribes," says Nez Perce Councilman Brooklyn Baptiste. "If they aren't good stewards then we have that right...to carry out that trust obligation in our best interest."
In August, the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United (IRU) filed a joint lawsuit against the Forest Service after protesters unsuccessfully tried blocking the transport of a General Electric-owned water evaporator to the Canadian tar sands.
Oregon-based shipping company Omega Morgan planned to haul nine similar loads through Highway 12 — a narrow, two-lane roadway weaving through the Nez Perce Reservation and Clearwater-Lochsa Wild and Scenic River Corridor — starting on Sept. 18. Resources Conservation Company International, a subsidiary of GE and defendant in the case, argued if shipments are halted, the company will lose $5 million.
IRU Executive Director Bill Sedivy called Winmill's decision a "clear win for all the Wild and Scenic Rivers of America."
"This ruling shows that the oil industry and the world’s largest corporations can’t run roughshod over the Tribe, the people of Idaho or our nations’ most precious natural assets," he said in a statement.
The drama, however, isn't over. On Wednesday, 28 tribal members, including Baptiste and seven other tribal executive committee members, were charged with public nuisance infractions for protests in August. Their arraignment is set for Sept. 20.
UPDATE: The Forest Service has issued the following statement: “In compliance with the Judge’s order, the Forest Service is preparing a closure order for mega-loads traveling Highway 12 between mileposts 74 and 187. The Forest Service anticipates its study of the corridor to be completed by the end of September and it will continue to consult with the Nez Perce Tribe."