Megaload delayed in Umatilla by protest

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Climate activists won the night Sunday, effectively stalling the first of three controversial “megaloads” from leaving the Port of Umatilla on schedule.

Two protesters were arrested after they locked themselves onto the side and underneath the truck hauling massive equipment to the oil fields in Canada. It took police two hours to remove Leonard George Higgins, 61, and Arnold George Schroder, 35, and by the time they finished it was 11:30 p.m. Deputies booked the men into the Umatilla County Jail, Pendleton, on one count each of second-degree disorderly conduct, a class B misdemeanor.

About 50 people representing grassroots environmental groups, as well as several members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, arrived late Sunday to speak out against the megaloads and industrial transporter Omega Morgan.

Once the shipment appeared ready to hit the road, the group crossed into the lot carrying signs and chanting, “No tar sands on tribal lands!” The two protesters were then able to lock onto the truck using heavy steel tubes known as “black bears.”

Officers moved most people back across the property boundary while they worked to detach and arrest the men. But it was later announced shortly before midnight the megaload would not move.

“We stopped this load from moving toward the tar sands, destroying the climate and destroying native land for one day,” said Trip Jennings, with Portland Rising Tide. “If we can stop it for one day, we can stop it for a week. We couldn’t have done it without working closely with the tribal people, whom we stood with.”

Jennings said protesters are making a plan to return Monday night.

This is the second delay for the megaload. Last week, the company said it took longer than expected to secure the equipment onto trucks. It was permitted by the Oregon Department of Transportation to leave as early as Nov. 24, but decided to wait until after Thanksgiving weekend.

Permitting only allows the load to travel between the hours of 8 p.m. — 6 a.m.

Tribal member Linda Sampson, of Pendleton, said the load’s route through Oregon runs entirely on lands ceded in the Treaty of 1855. From Hermiston, the megaload will head east on Interstate 84 into Pendleton, and south again on Highway 395 into the John Day Valley.

The concern, according to Sampson, is both the lack of consultation with the tribes and potential for the trucks to damage the environment.

“This can’t be a major corridor through our land,” she said. “Everything through here has a meaning and purpose for everybody.”

Stephen Quirke, also with Portland Rising Tide, said he thinks the protests are a success and send a message.

“Every time you assert a community’s right to control what business happens on their land, and the way their resources are used, that’s a victory,” Quirke said. “They’ve been reasserting what they’ve already asserted, which is the environment can’t be treated like an object. We need to hear that message.”

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