Is there not a cause? Let no man’s heart fail him.
—David facing Goliath (Samuel 1:17)
Right in the midst of their battle against ExxonMobil, residents along Idaho’s Highway 12 received an email from an unlikely but eminently appropriate source. An Israeli activist fighting gas exploration in the Elah Valley found their website, FightingGoliath, and wished them well in their struggle.
The Elah Valley was the site of the famous duel between a young shepherd boy and a giant warrior 3,000 years ago. Visitors can stay walk along the brook where David chose five smooth stones for his trusty slingshot.
On July 19, a Montana judge ruled, primarily for environmental reasons, that Exxon-Mobil cannot move equipment over Lolo Pass into Montana to the Kearl Oil Sands Project in northern Alberta. One test load—24 feet wide, 30 feet high, and 208 feet long, weighing 250 tons—now sits near the pass after a 24-day, 174-mile trip that ExxonMobil promised would take three.
Along the way, the load clipped an overhead line and cut off power to 1,300 homes and businesses. It also caused traffic delays of up to 50 minutes. The response from the extremely compliant Idaho Transportation Department was to call the test a “success” and waive (not enforce) the 10-minute traffic delay rule.
The test load may have to be hauled back to Lewiston where it will be—as Exxon-Mobil has been forced to do with 33 other modules—cut in half so that it can travel on Highway 95 through Moscow and Coeur d’Alene and then to Interstate 90. The judge’s ruling applies only to Highway 12 and Highway 200 in Montana.
At $500,000 per module for the resizing and huge delays in transport, Kearl Project executives are most likely wishing they had taken the higher bid from Alberta’s unionized metal workers rather than having the modules made in South Korea. Insisting that Highway 12 was the only route from Lewiston, ExxonMobil originally claimed that the modules could not be reduced in size.
In announcing the gas exploration in Israel’s Elah Valley, Fox Business News neglected to mention that its owner, Rupert Murdoch, has invested money in this venture. Should we be surprised that former Vice President Dick Cheney is also in on the deal?
Goliath brought his shield bearer directly onto the battlefield, but Idaho officials kept secret their ties with big oil. As early as 2008, Gov. “Butch” Otter assured ExxonMobil that it could transport its equipment from the Port of Lewiston up the “wild and scenic” Clearwater and Lochsa River valleys. Without consulting their constituents, Idaho’s congressional delegation also signed onto the plan.
Kearl Project administrators were extremely arrogant to think they could take advantage of a port 440 miles inland and rural highways with few overhead lines, and they are also really naïve to think that people whom they neglected to inform would not object to their plans.
Using Goliath’s own sword, David lopped off his head, which is said to have been pickled and hung in his palace in Jerusalem. The gentle grandparents, Linwood Laughy and Borg Hendrikson, the founders of FightingGoliath.org, will certainly not be that brutal.
They have, however, defeated a foe far larger and more powerful than a nine-foot-tall warrior carrying 200 pounds of weapons and armor. They now wear the “Breastplate of Righteousness” for the homeowners and businesses along one of America’s most scenic highways whose claims of losses in $149 million business income and diminished property values fell on deaf ears in Boise.
Lolo Lodge and Hot Springs owners have both lost money this summer because of the presence of the test load in their parking lot. The hot springs manager estimates he lost $6,000 in a single day because tourists were put off by the presence of state patrol vehicles guarding the huge metal structure, which travelers call an “ugly eyesore.”
Just like David, who knew that he might have to face Goliath’s four brothers, Laughy and Hendrikson chose five smooth stones from their beloved rivers, because other companies—Korea National Oil, Shell Oil, Premay Equipment, and Nickel Brothers—have expressed interest in defiling the wilderness.
Responding to his compatriots who refused to fight the Philistines, David said, “Is there not a cause? Let no man’s heart fail him.” The brave residents along the Clearwater and the Lochsa have certainly not lost heart.
Editor’s Note: This week, legal opponents of ExxonMobil’s attempts to truck the oversized loads along Highway 12 filed an exception to an Idaho hearing officer’s recommendation to grant the permits. The document argues that hearing officer Duff McKee applied an improper legal standard and ignored important evidence. It requests that Idaho Transportation Department director Brian Ness overturn McKee’s recommendation. Although ExxonMobil and its subsidiary, Imperial Oil, have begun using alternate routes for the megaloads, the corporation has indicated it will continue to pursue permission to use Highway 12. “We recognize our fight is not over,” the opponents wrote in a recent media release.
Nick Gier taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. He has hiked the wilderness trials of the Pacific Northwest and fished the wild rivers of Idaho for 38 years.