Megaload stalled by weather in Eastern Oregon

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A blast of winter weather blanketed Eastern Oregon roads in snow and ice Tuesday, once again delaying movement of the megaload convoy bound for the oil sands of Alberta.

The controversial shipment of massive refinery equipment left the Port of Umatilla Monday night, arriving at its first extended parking turnout off Highway 395 just south of Pendleton. It will remain there until conditions improve, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Industrial hauler Omega Morgan, based in Hillsboro, is in charge of transporting the 22-foot-wide, 376-foot-long load safely on its route south through the John Day Valley and east into southern Idaho. The company’s permit with ODOT prohibits traveling in snow, ice or other hazardous weather.

ODOT will not provide any additional plows beyond standard road maintenance, said regional spokesman Tom Strandberg.

The corridor, on Highway 395 between Pilot Rock and Ukiah, is already a challenge to drive with turns, inclines, often treacherous Battle Mountain pass and sometimes nasty wind, Strandberg said.

Holly Zander, spokeswoman with Omega Morgan, said crews with the megaload will look at weather reports each evening and decide whether to hit the road. The permit only allows travel between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

In ideal conditions, the rig can drive at a top speed of 35 mph, Zander said. It figures to spend six days traveling through Oregon and 20 days total to reach its final destination — again, weather permitting.

“Timing is not the priority here,” Zander said. “We just want to make sure we are as safe as possible on this route.”

Two more megaload shipments are scheduled to leave from Umatilla on the same route sometime later this month and January. Those dates are not yet finalized, Zander said.

Climate activists have protested transporting oil sands equipment through Oregon, and even blocked the megaload from leaving on schedule Sunday. Two protesters, 61-year-old Leonard Higgins and 35-year-old Arnold Schroder, were arrested for locking themselves onto the truck and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

A third protester was also arrested for attempting to block the load Monday. Cathy Sampson-Kruse, 59, was similarly charged with disorderly conduct and released from the Umatilla County Jail.

On Tuesday, Omega Morgan president and CEO John McCalla issued a statement that the company is taking care to provide service while leaving as little impact on the environment as possible.

“We have complete confidence that not only can we move this equipment safely, but it can be done with no damage to the environment or infrastructure, including roads and bridges along the route,” McCalla said.

But members of grassroots environmental groups from Oregon, Idaho and Washington state worry about the effects of climate change caused by extracting oil from the Canadian sands. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, meanwhile, has opposed ODOT’s decision to permit the megaloads due to a lack of consultation.

The company has no comment on climate issues, Zander said, but respects the citizens’ right to protest.

“Hopefully they respect our right to go ahead and do our job,” she said.

Updated information about the movement of the megaload is available here.

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