The night in April 2011 when a nearly 500,000-pound Imperial Oil megaload knocked out power to some 1,300 Idaho residents, activist Linwood Laughy got a call from a volunteer monitor down in Orofino. Highway 12 had subsequently been shutdown, temporarily stalling the megaload’s trek up the Clearwater-Lochsa corridor. Laughy’s response was brief: “Yes!”
The call was an emotional moment that never made it into media accounts of the incident. And it’s a prime example of the dramatic backstories sprinkled throughout Boise journalist Steve Bunk’s new book Goliath Staggered: How the People of Highway 12 Conquered Big Oil. Those stories serve to bolster a chronological unspooling of the events that have unfolded in Idaho and Montana since Imperial Oil first began eyeing Highway 12 as an industrial corridor in late 2008. Goliath Staggered serves not as a heady environmentalist tome as much as a day-by-day collection of what locals have come to know as the megaload saga.
“The machinations of big oil and the government are actually pretty intriguing,” Bunk says. “What they’ll do to get what they want, it’s kind of dismaying.”
Bunk launched the project early last year with the intent of focusing on a few key characters in the battle over Highway 12. Laughy and Borg Hendrickson were obvious choices in Idaho, having founded the initial opposition effort there. Hendrickson says the book is “like reading a live history.”
The backstories of other players in Missoula proved a compelling addition as well, Bunk says. For example, few who followed the megaload issue in newspapers knew that attorney Robert Gentry was diagnosed with brain cancer in the middle of his fight to stop Imperial Oil in 2011—a story documented in detail in Goliath Staggered.
A federal court ruling issued last year has given Highway 12 a temporary reprieve, but the megaload story is far from over. The U.S. Forest Service must now conduct a study to determine the potential impacts of megaload traffic to the Clearwater-Lochsa corridor. Hendrickson says she “wouldn’t want people to feel the book is a conclusion of any kind.”
Bunk is also fully aware that Goliath Staggered comes not at the end of the saga but, perhaps, somewhere in the middle. He hopes the book can serve as an inspiring template for activist efforts elsewhere and illustrate that what matters is “people forcing change.”
“The title is Goliath Staggered, not ‘Goliath Fell,’” he says. “I think there’s no doubt that even though they won the battle, the war isn’t over. But it’s important to celebrate these victories.”
Steve Bunk will read from Goliath Staggered: How the People of Highway 12 Conquered Big Oil at Fact and Fiction tonight, April 22, at 7 p.m.