Protesters challenge megaloads

<p>Protesters gather in front of a megaload at the Port of Umatilla Sunday evening. The 300-foot-long, 20-foot high trailer was scheduled to travel through Hermiston Monday night. It has been rescheduled to leave Sunday. The protesters were demonstrating against the megaload bound for the tar-sand sites in Canada.</p>

About a dozen protesters from across the state braved subfreezing temperatures Sunday night at the Port of Umatilla to deliver the message that they do not want megaloads on Oregon roads.

Megaloads are unusually large pieces of equipment transported on specially made trailers. The megaload that was scheduled to pass through Hermiston Monday night was almost 400 feet long, more than 20 feet wide and almost 20 feet high. It was bound for the controversial tar-sands oil and gas exploration sites in Alberta, Canada.

The cargo consisted of water purification equipment that will eventually end up at one of the many tar-sands sites in Alberta. The company hauling the megaload, Omega Morgan out of Hillsboro, specializes in heavy-freight transportation.

Protest organizer Jim Powers said the group members were demonstrating to voice their displeasure that the megaload was given the green-light to travel through Oregon and what it represented on a larger scale.

“We should not be supporting industries that put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” Powers said. “This is a symbol of an industry that puts carbon dioxide into the air. We have to cut back on carbon emissions. This is one more machine that is going to contribute to carbon emissions into the atmosphere. It will screw up the earth for generations to come.”

The load that was scheduled for departure from the Port of Umatilla Monday night, traveling through Hermiston on its way to Interstate 84 won’t be the last.

Future megaloads that are already on site at the Port of Umatilla are scheduled for departure in December and January.

The approved route will take the megaloads on a meandering journey through Oregon before crossing into Idaho and heading north to Canada. The travel corridor is limited because of the immense size of the rig.

According to a press release by the Oregon Department of Transportation, when traveling down a two-lane highway the load occupies the entire space of the road, resulting in delays of up to 20 minutes for traffic.

Powers said another issue that concerned the protesters was the lack of public scrutiny over ODOT’s permit process for the megaloads.

“The permits were issued at 5:30 p.m. on Friday,” Powers said. “We were given no time to review them. There was no public review. We couldn’t get questions asked. The public review process was completely inadequate, and for that reason alone this thing should be delayed. When we asked ODOT why they were rushing this through they said the company has some deadline that was important to them. So is ODOT in business for them, or are they in business for the people of Oregon?”

Powers said Sunday he and the other protesters planned to stage protests along the route through Hermiston. Protesters gathered Sunday night in anticipation of the megaload departing the Port of Umatilla.

The departure has been twice delayed for unknown reasons and is now scheduled to move on Sunday, starting at approximately 8 p.m.

The equipment will eventually be installed at a tar-sands site in northern Alberta, possibly at the Fort MacMurray or Cold Lake locations.

Tar-sands oil developments have generated controversy because of the nature of the mining techniques.

In Fort MacMurray, strip mining has caused a wide variety of environmental concerns judged by many in the environmental protection fields as detrimental to native species and ecosystems. In Cold Lake, hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” involves injecting steam and chemicals to break apart oil or release natural gas and facilitate its removal from the ground.

The practice has received widespread criticism from opponents concerned the technique will have unforeseen consequences including possible surface and groundwater contamination.

The tar sand sites in Canada were discovered decades ago but until the mid-1990s were not deemed financially feasible for harvest.

New technologies provided the means for extraction, and the sites exploded with development and companies scrambling to take advantage of the billions of dollars to be made. Production in 2006 was estimated to be 1.25 million barrels a day from the tar-sands sites.

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