Opposition to Imperial Oil's heavy haul voiced a collective victory cry July 19. Missoula District Court Judge Ray Dayton issued a preliminary injunction that day against the Kearl Module Transportation Project. All Against the Haul's blog quickly lit up with a triumphant "WE WON!" The following morning, newspaper headlines in Montana and Idaho hailed it a "mega ruling" against the megaloads.
The injunction validated several allegations that heavy haul opponents have leveled against the Montana Department of Transportation and Exxon Mobil subsidiary Imperial Oil for nearly a year and a half. Dayton ruled that MDT had violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act by approving an inadequate environmental assessment of the project. One of the assessment's major shortcomings, Dayton said, was in not fully investigating alternate routes for the big rigs.
Yet the call for celebration comes with a number of caveats, not the least of which is the possibility of seeing the loads rerouted along Interstate 90. Even as news of Dayton's injunction spread last week, Imperial Oil's first reduced-size load completed its journey through Idaho and Montana to Alberta. A giant test module continues to sit next to Highway 12 at Lolo Hot Springs, its future uncertain as MDT and Imperial Oil seek to appeal Dayton's decision. And Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser has stated repeatedly that the company hasn't given up on its original plan.
"It remains to be seen how large a nail this is in Exxon's coffin," says All Against the Haul coordinator Zack Porter. "We are celebrating last week's victory, and we want the enormous coalition of volunteers to be celebrating this with us, but we know this is potentially just a middle step."
In Idaho, courts have snatched victory from opposition forces time and again. Legal attempts to prevent the Idaho Transportation Department from green-lighting the megaloads hit a major snag this Monday when a judge denied a request to reconsider recommendations to approve the permits. Fighting Goliath co-founder Borg Hendrickson said heavy haul opponents were disappointed by the ruling, and intend to continue fighting in court.
Porter says the heavy haul opposition is unsure what its next move will be. MDT has not released a travel plan for loads along the interstate. But Dayton's injunction should hold back the megaloads at least until next summer, Porter says, making this "another several-billion-dollar delay for Exxon Mobil."
Last week's victory, it appears, was largely a win for morale. "David is slaying Goliath in the Northern Rockies," Porter says. "And the world is watching."