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First 'Megaload' Moves On Oregon Roads Sunday

Erik Zander of Omega Morgan discusses the megaload plans at a public meeting Monday night in John Day.
Erik Zander of Omega Morgan discusses the megaload plans at a public meeting Monday night in John Day.

State transportation officials say Omega Morgan’s first oversized load to move through Eastern Oregon will hit the road in Umatilla the night of Sunday, Nov. 24.

Erik Zander, the Hillsboro-based company’s project manager, said at a meeting Monday night in John Day the date is not firm, as he doesn’t yet have the permit.

However, if the move does start Sunday, it could take about six nights to travel through the state under perfect conditions – or longer, with delays possible for weather and the holiday break, he said.

“When there’s snow and ice, we’re not on the road,” he said.

The route will take the load from Umatilla to Pendleton, south on Highway 395 to Mt. Vernon and east through John Day and Prairie City to Ontario, exiting the state to stop again in Homedale, Idaho.

Zander revealed one change in the route at Mt. Vernon, after being asked how the load would make the tight left turn in Mt. Vernon.

“We’re not going left. We’re going right,” he said. The company decided the right turn works better, and the load will travel west to nearby private property, where the landowner has agreed to allow the rig to turn around to then go east on Highway 26.

More than 30 people attended Monday’s meeting at the Grant County Regional Airport. Reactions varied – some were curious about the load and want to see it, while others questioned impacts on fire and ambulance access and the road system, as well as environmental concerns.

The load, manufactured in Portland, is described as water purification equipment – essentially a big, empty torpedo-shaped vessel – that is used in energy developments.

Zander and ODOT both said this load, and two more to follow, will not contain any hazardous materials, fuels or liquids.

ODOT said the vessel itself is 98 feet long, but the entire transport caravan will measure 380 feet long, 23 feet wide and 19 feet tall. He said the vessel weighs 330,000 pounds and is 16 feet wide.

The plan calls for the load to move between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when there is little traffic. Motorists are cautioned to expect delays of up to 20 minutes as the load moves along.

The load will take up both lanes of travel on two-lane highways, and ODOT said traffic will be stopped for five- to seven-mile segments.

The weight of the load is supported by a framework of girders and series of sets of axles, each with independent turning capacity. He said the load never puts the entire weight on one place, such as a bridge, and that the weight for each axle is about the same as a dump truck.

The height of the load means it cannot travel on Interstate 84 other than a short section between Stanfield and Pendleton, where it will be routed around overpasses via the freeway ramps.

The load moves with one pull truck, two push trucks, eight crew members and tillermen who steer it through sharp corners. Accompanying the load will be several pilot vehicles to control traffic, a full service and tire repair truck, and an ambulance.

Sheriff Glenn Palmer said his department and other public safety agencies are ready to work with the company to “make it as safe as we can.”

Kara Kohfield Hilton, ambulance director for Blue Mountain Hospital, stressed that the county’s dispatch service will be “100 percent involved” throughout the move. She said ambulances will be able to bypass the superload, and also will be available to respond to local communities from each direction.

Environmental activist Karen Coulter questioned the lack of a public process leading to the move, saying the company is using this route because of the strong public outcry over the original route through Idaho and Montana. She said there are larger issues concerning damage to the environment in the oil development in Canada – “one of the most devastating projects on Earth.”

Such concerns fueled protests that culminated this fall in a federal injunction halting the loads on Highway 12 through Idaho pending further environmental studies.

Zander said the company can’t use Highway 12 until that’s resolved. It is planning to take the load through southern Idaho from Homedale.

He confirmed the final destination is Alberta, Canada, but didn’t identify the company’s client and said the lack of routes means “we have to go south to go north.”

Some attending the meeting worried the three loads are just trial runs to open up a new megaload highway. Zander said he just has orders for three loads.

He said his company has long experience with moving big loads – “If it’s awkward, we move it” – and has a good safety record.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve done this,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of it, and we’ve had good success.”

Mayor Ron Lundbom said he didn’t think the state would be issuing permits “if there was anything underhanded about this.”

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Scotta Callister