Thursday, January 9, 2014

Movement to Resist Tar Sands 'Megaloads' Brings Together Northwest Tribal Members, Environmentalists

Rachel Stoeve
YES! Magazine
  From left, Sandy Sampson, Carl Sampson, and Linda Sampson. As the sun set in Umatilla, Ore., the temperature plunged. It was December 21. My hands were going numb, but word was the megaload might roll that night, and I wanted to be there if it did.
(Photo: Rachael Stoeve)
Umatilla, a town of 7,000 sprawled out on the plains overlooking the Columbia River, once hosted a U.S. Army chemical weapons depot, but the last of that stockpile was destroyed in 2011. Now, it's the starting point for the megaloads, three massive evaporators bound for the tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Swaths of boreal forest in Canada have been clearcut for extraction of this dense form of petroleum, which gets its colloquial name from its smell and appearance.
The Sampsons see resistance to the megaloads as part of their responsibility to protect the treaty their ancestors negotiated.
The evaporators, which are designed to treat wastewater from tar sands mining, look like grey tubes large enough to swallow a trailer home. Each one is 96 feet long and weighs over 300,000 pounds. Each megaload's transport convoy—made up of semi trucks, trailers, and their cargo—is 380 feet long, 19 feet high and 23 feet wide, and weighs in at almost a million pounds. They will take up two lanes of highway as they move through more than 300 miles of rural eastern Oregon, through what Linda Sampson, an Umatilla tribal member who opposes the megaloads, calls "big country."

Linda, her sisters Sandy and Cathy, mother Arleta, and father Carl are among 30 members of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla who have come out to protest the megaloads. The tribes' board of trustees has also expressed concerns over megaload passage. The struggle pits the tribes and their allies in the environmental movement against the General Electric subsidiary that manufactured the evaporators and the hauling company Omega Morgan, which is providing transportation.

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