What Has Megaloads Lawsuit Accomplished?

By Beacon Staff

The Missoula County Commission and the National Wildlife Federation made a big political statement with their lawsuit to halt construction modules from being transported on Montana highways en route to the Kearl oil sands in Alberta. Now that the litigation has about run its course, let’s evaluate exactly what they accomplished.

When it’s all said and done, the modules will all still make it to their destination where they will be used to process Canadian oil sands. However, the lawsuit has caused at least some of the loads to be taken over an alternate route at a much greater expense. The alternate-route modules are dismantled in Lewiston, Idaho, at about a half-million dollars each, and reconfigured into smaller, more numerous loads, and transported over a longer distance.

With more loads to transport farther, the project as a whole will now consume additional diesel fuel. Not to mention the additional energy used to tear down and reconstruct the modules. Without question, the Missoula County/Wildlife Federation lawsuit forced Imperial Oil to unnecessarily consume a vast quantity of additional fossil fuel and electricity.

But the suit brought by Missoula commissioners and the Wildlife Federation didn’t just waste fuel and energy, it also squandered economic opportunity and cost jobs. The loads being hauled over alternate routes means that highway construction, traffic control, and public safety work that would have been done by Montana workers has now disappeared. By some estimates, Montana lost $33 million in economic activity as a result of the ill-advised suit, including scores of potential jobs

The original, preferred route blocked by Missoula County and the Wildlife Federation would have taken these loads through dozens of small Montana towns. Local businesses along the route had been expecting an economic boost from the project. That’s diminished now, too.

In fact, the Montana Department of Transportation estimated the total amount of economic activity resulting from the megaloads project would be $67 million in Montana – that figure includes the construction activity and commerce created in small towns. The more of these loads that travel over the alternate route, the less economic activity happens in Montana.

But perhaps the worst outcome of the Missoula County/Wildlife Federation lawsuit is that a new precedent has been set. We now live in a state where any municipality can apparently stop commerce on tax payer-owned state highways by simply going to court if any type of permit is involved.

So what exactly was the Missoula County/Wildlife Federation lawsuit meant to accomplish?

The loads will still get to their destination – only at higher cost, with more energy used, with fewer Montanans employed, and with a tremendous amount of economic activity lost.

The county commissioners joined the lawsuit under the guise of protecting Missoula County residents. But it’s curious that similar energy-related megaload projects transported by Conoco Phillips and Weyerhaeuser did not draw litigation from Missoula County and the Wildlife Federation.

It appears the lawsuit was intended to make a bold political statement about “global warming” and nothing else. After adding to air pollution and costing as much as $67 million in jobs and economic activity for Montana, Missoula County residents might question their commissioners, and Wildlife Federation members might wonder what their so-called sportsmen’s advocacy group is really up to.

Cary Hegreberg is the executive director of the Montana Contractors’ Association and Barry “Spook” Stang is the executive vice president of the Motor Carriers of Montana.