Nyssa - One of the potential trouble spots along a megaload's circuitous route through Eastern Oregon is a 9-mile stretch of Clark Boulevard, which will take the load from U.S. Highway 20-26 east of Vale to the south around Nyssa.
Local residents have raised concerns about the road's width and ability to support the 900,000-pound megaload, as well as the potential impact to taxpayers who might end up footing the bill if any damage is done.
Additionally, a Nyssa Rural Road District official confirmed that the Oregon Department of Transportation didn't have the authority to approve the megaload's travel on Clark Boulevard.
But despite lingering concerns, ODOT, county and local entities and Omega Morgan Company officials express confidence that the three megaloads scheduled to travel through Eastern Oregon in the coming weeks should not greatly impact either the safety of residents living on or near the proposed route, or the condition of the roads being used.
Still, some feel that the agencies involved in megaload transport, including ODOT and Omega Morgan, failed to provide proper disclosure of their plans in advance.
“There are just a lot of questions that weren't asked and sure weren't answered,” said Ontario resident Bob Moore, one of many who attended public meetings in the Western Treasure Valley to learn about the upcoming shipments. “I think it's high time they were made to give us some answers.”
The first 900,000-pound load is parked in Dale, a small town on the northern edge of Grant County, only about 100 miles from its starting point on Dec. 2 at the Port of Umatilla and still another 177 miles from Vale. The load has been delayed by protests and the weather the past two weeks, and it's unclear when the load will reach our area.
The load is 96 feet long, 23 feet wide and 19 feet tall, according to the travel permit issued by ODOT. It is expected to cross into Idaho this week on its way to Alberta, Canada oil sands, officials said.
Because of its height, the load can't use Interstate 84 because it doesn't fit under the overpasses.
Omega Morgan has faced opposition to moving oversized loads through Idaho and Montana, along U.S. Highway 12, and has been stopped by a injunction by a federal judge.
The route through Eastern Oregon went through Umatilla and is scheduled to go through Grant County to Mount Vernon before heading east on U.S. Highway 26, through Baker County and into Malheur County on its way to Vale. After reaching Vale, the procession of pilot cars and transport will go east on Highway 20-26 to Clark Boulevard, where it will turn south on Clark to connect with Oregon Highway 201, west of Nyssa. It will proceed south through Adrian to Homedale (Idaho Highway 19 from the state line).
Moore's biggest concern is with Omega Morgan's use of Clark Boulevard.
“Clark is a county road,” he said. “It's a farm-to-market road. It's a road that is used to get to town by the citizens and residents out there, mainly farmers, and when that road is closed, there is going to be no access.”
According to Omega Morgan's travel permit, the megaload is allowed to move only at night, between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., and is not allowed to travel on holidays or in bad weather. Its drivers are required to maintain contact with emergency service vehicles to ensure they have unobstructed access to roads, and to pull off the road as needed to allow motorists to pass, especially important on roads like Clark Boulevard, which is only two lanes wide and will be completely blocked by the megaload.
But according to Wes Allison, a supervisor for the Nyssa Rural Road District, ODOT lacks the authority to approve megaload travel on Clark Boulevard, meaning the permit doesn't technically apply to the rural road.
“I guess the easy answer is no. The only place they have authority is on their roadways,” Allison said. “But with that said, our roadways are public roadways, and to deny someone access to that, you'd have to have reason. You can't just pick and choose who you're going to let drive on the roads. We think they've addressed our concerns about the weight limitations. There's plenty of people in the community who are concerned about it but I don't know that I can just tell them no and not have a good, solid reason to do that.”
Load spread out
According to Holly Zander, a spokeswoman for Omega Morgan, distributing the weight of the load over two lanes, 27 axles and 128 tires reduces the stress it puts on roads.
“A heavily loaded dump truck puts more concentrated load onto the asphalt than our high frame,” Zander wrote in an email. “We aim to get our tread pressure below 700 pounds per inch of tread. The loading is definitely not as severe on the roads as some may expect.”
The State of Oregon doesn't have a way to verify the weight of the load, ODOT officials said, but they do review documented weight data of the freight, haul vehicles and trailers.
Officials at ODOT also said that the permit allowing Omega Morgan to transport megaloads through Oregon was issued without any of the conditions that frequently apply to oversize loads.
“Because of the way the carrier distributed the load with multiple axles and wide tire spacing, the permit could be approved with no conditions,” said Tom Strandberg, a spokesman for ODOT. Strandberg added that ODOT engineers had conducted a review of bridges and structures along the proposed route before issuing the permit.
Clark Boulevard's weight limits are the same as the state roads the megaload is approved to travel on, Allison said.
“We don't have any restrictions that would require people to haul less of a load on our roads than if they were on the state highways,” he said. “Omega Morgan has met all the required weight limitations to haul down the highway, so we don't have any restrictions that would stop them from going on our roads.”
According to information provided by ODOT, Oregon's roads do not have a specific maximum weight limit. Instead, loads that surpass 24,000 pounds per axle can be subject to special routing and analysis by ODOT engineers before their travel is approved.
However, not just the weight of the megaload, some are concerned with the width of the load compared to Clark Boulevard. Allison said the width of the road is not perfectly consistent, but estimated it to average 24 feet. For a 23-foot-wide megaload, there isn't much room to maneuver. Allison said damage to the thin asphalt on the sides of the road is a concern, but Omega Morgan's insurance should address that.
“I feel like we've done what we could to try to cover our liability issues,” he said but added that the details are still a little muddy. “This is kind of new for us. This isn't something that happens all the time. We don't have a policy in place for how we handle things.”
According to the permit, Omega Morgan provided the state of Oregon with a $20,000 surety bond.
“$20,000 doesn't seem like it's a whole lot of money. Basically, that's for incidental stuff,” Strandberg said. “So if they knocked over a sign or did some minor damage, we want to be able to have access to some funds pretty immediately to correct those issues.”
Additionally, the transport company was required to provide proof of liability insurance that would cover property damage for the state.
“If they did any major damage, we'd go after their insurance policy,” Strandberg said. “We are named on their insurance policy as part of the permit.”
But both ODOT and Omega Morgan were unable to provide details about the procedures in place in case the state were to seek compensation for damage.
“I don’t have any of the specifics on the bond or insurance procedures,” Zander wrote in an email. “We are not anticipating issues because based on our configuration that I shared earlier there will not be damage to the roads.”