Montana citizens have requested that the State coordinate with federal entities to complete an extensive review of the mega-load project under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – and  with good reason.  In July 2009 MT DOT Director Jim Lynch stated “we are setting the stage for a high wide corridor through the State of Montana probably to be used for things we haven’t even imagined yet.”

What are the consequences of a permanent megaload corridor in Montana? Are there alternatives? Where is the research considering impacts on our safety on narrow roadways in bad weather? On our travel routes? On our property values?  On our recreation economy?  On our rivers? On our fish and wildlife?

We Montanans don’t need outsiders to tell us of the obvious dangers of the megaload projects, but we can learn from the experience of others.

Other states have not fared well dealing with either big companies or mega-load corridors. In Texas, rural counties struggle to maintain roadways damaged by megaload vehicles.  "We've seen a lot of our roadways have base [problems], edges drop off, rutting, bridge hits, shoulder damage," commented Jodi Hodges, a public information officer in the Texas DOT's Fort Worth district, in a recent article in the Texas Tribune.  Texans have learned the hard way that the big companies rarely pay the costs of the road damage they inflict.  In one county alone, taxpayers were forced to foot a $23 million dollar bill for road repairs due to damage from similarly sized shipments as the ones proposed for Montana.

Citizens in Idaho shoulder the load as they seek to protect the Lochsa River, a federally-designated Wild and Scenic river with a blue ribbon cutthroat trout fishery and habitat for bull trout, wild steelhead and chinook salmon. Its narrow winding path follows routes designated as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

In Montana, the corridor is no less significant.  The megaload route enters our state at Lolo Pass and traces Lolo Creek to Hwy 93, traverses Missoula, passes through Bonner Milltown on its way up the Blackfoot, climbs over the Continental Divide at Rogers Pass, and then heads north along the Rocky Mountain Front through the communities of Augusta, Choteau, Valier, and Cut Bank.

Perhaps worst of all, we have been misled about the duration of the projects.  There is no question that this will be a permanent corridor.  Hardly had we learned about one project, months after Idaho state officials had already given their blessing, than evidence of a continuing series of future projects surfaced.  Three proposals are publicly known, and it’s likely other plans are in the works.  As MDT Director Jim Lynch commented in July, 2009, “We’re not talking about one load, we’re talking about an operation for an extended period of time – it’s a major impact on the state.”

As residents of Bonner Milltown, we’re privileged to live at the confluence of two magnificent rivers.  We see citizens in the Blackfoot Challenge working to restore the Blackfoot River; we see $6 million spent to clean up PCBs in the mill pond on the Blackfoot; we see $120 million spent to clean the aquifer and restore the confluence of the Clark Fork River in Milltown.  Once upon a time, the activities creating the source of this pollution seemed to be a good idea, at least to corporations like Anaconda. If only more care had been taken before the degradation occurred…

Montana has no need to repeat the sadder chapters of its history.  It’s time to prove we’ve learned from past mistakes – that we are capable of avoiding disaster by doing things right the first time.  In Bonner Milltown we have learned to look beyond the trees to see the forest. We request that our State officials do no less.

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