GE drops legal fight over running tar sands megaloads on Idaho highway


By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho, Oct 25 (Reuters) - A General Electric Cosubsidiary has dropped its appeal of a federal court orderbarring a massive shipment of tar sands oil-field equipment frombeing trucked along a scenic Idaho roadway that cuts through theIndian homelands of the Nez Perce Tribe.

The company's legal capitulation was hailed by tribalofficials and environmental groups as a major victory in theirthree-year struggle against so-called megaload transports, adispute at the forefront of a larger battle over oil and gasdevelopment in North America.

A federal judge issued an injunction last month blocking aplanned shipment along U.S. Highway 12 of an oversizedwater-treatment system bound for delivery by an Oregon haulingcompany to the tar sands production fields of Alberta, Canada.

The winding mountain road hugs the banks of two federallyprotected rivers through north-central Idaho and crossesnational forest lands following an historic trail broken byearly Nez Perce bison hunters.

It also follows the route taken at the dawn of the19th-century by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on theirfamed government-sponsored expedition to chart newly purchasedWestern territories.

The General Electric affiliate said in a statement onFriday it was abandoning its court fight over the road to focuson other shipment options "due to ongoing uncertainty regardingtimely delivery" of its oil-field equipment.

The Nez Perce in August formed a human chain across thetwo-lane highway in a protest that slowed but did not stop aninitial shipment of water purification units owned by the GEsubsidiary Resources Conservation Company International.

A second scheduled shipment was blocked in September by thejudge, who ordered further megaloads banned along the 100-mile(161-km) route until the U.S. Forest Service studied theenvironmental, economic and tribal impacts.

Tribal leaders and environmental activists have argued thatthe scenic mountain road should not be turned into an industrialcorridor by international oil companies seeking a short cut totransport outsized equipment from the Port of Lewiston in Idahoto Canada.

The GE subsidiary countered that it stood to lose millionsof dollars if its shipments were delayed, according to an appealof the court order. That appeal was formally withdrawn onThursday.

"(This) is a significant step forward for not only the NezPerce people but all persons who believe this special areashould not be transformed into something it was never intendedto be," Silas Whitman, tribal chairman, said in a statement.

ExxonMobil two years ago dropped plans to ship tarsands equipment on colossal rigs along U.S. Highway 12 afterdelays tied to a lawsuit by the environmental group Idaho RiversUnited. Ultimately, ExxonMobil downsized the loads and usedalternative routes through Idaho to Canada.

Conservationists said the legal victories would help protectthe scenic river canyon.

"Industrialization of one of America's first wild and scenicriver canyons is not acceptable, and the courts have agreed withus," Idaho Rivers United Conservation Director Kevin Lewis said.

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