Protesters block megaload at Port of Umatilla

UMATILLA — Protesters locked themselves to a transport rig bearing a 450-ton piece of oil refinery equipment and blocked its departure Sunday night from the Port of Umatilla.

It was bound for a tar sands oil development in western Canada. Environmentalists object to the shipment for its potential to worsen global warming, and tribal members say they're worried about the possibility of environmental damage in Eastern Oregon, where they assert a treaty interest and say they weren't adequately consulted.

Two protesters were arrested after they used heavy steel tubes to lock themselves to the truck, the East Oregonian reported. It took police two hours to remove the men, and by the time they finished it was 11:30 p.m.

Because it blocks traffic, the 380-foot-long megaload is allowed to move only at night, mainly on Highways 395 and 26 through sparsely populated parts of Eastern Oregon.

A crowd estimated at about 50 environmentalists and tribal members had gathered at the port.

Once the shipment appeared ready to hit the road, the group crossed into the lot carrying signs and chanting, “No tar sands on tribal lands!” The two protesters were then able to lock onto the truck.

The paper reported that an announcement the load would not move came shortly before midnight.

It is the first of three planned megaload shipments. A call to a representative of the moving company, Omega Morgan of Hillsboro, Ore., was not immediately returned.

The two people arrested were identified as Leonard George Higgins, 61, and Arnold George Schroder, 35. Undersheriff Jim Littlefield said they were arraigned Monday on misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges and released without bail with a stipulation they not go back to the port.

A departure last Tuesday also was protested. The company said the equipment didn't move before the Thanksgiving holiday because it took longer than expected to load and secure it.

The water purification equipment is destined for Alberta. From eastern Oregon it will travel through Idaho and Montana.

Environmentalists are fighting the shipment to draw attention to fears that pollution from developing the tar sand oil in western Canada will contribute to global warming.

A member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation said the load's route runs on lands ceded in the Treaty of 1855. A statement about the treaty on the tribal website said the tribes reserved rights to hunt, fish and gather food on 6.4 million acres in Oregon and Washington and “maintain a keen interest and involvement in the activities that occur in that area.”

Tribal member Linda Sampson of Pendleton said the concern is with a lack of consultation and the potential for environmental damage.

“This can't be a major corridor through our land,” she said. “Everything through here has a meaning and purpose for everybody.”


Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.info

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