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Groups negotiating to end megaloads lawsuit involving northern Idaho route

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BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Rivers United and the Nez Perce Tribe are in mediation with the U.S. Forest Service to end a lawsuit concerning megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 in northern Idaho.

Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United said Wednesday the groups are seeking to have the federal agency come up with specific rules concerning gigantic loads traveling on the northern Idaho route that includes a federally designated Wild and Scenic River corridor as well as tribal land.

"What we need is a management plan," he said. "We need the Forest Service to figure out what its rules are going to be on Highway 12."

The groups sued the Forest Service last year after Idaho approved a megaload traveling the route, and U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in September granted a preliminary injunction halting shipments.

His ruling required the Forest Service to conduct a corridor review, and the agency on Monday released a 38-page document attempting to assess impacts the giant loads have passing through the twisting route. The agency also tried to define the intrinsic value of the area.

The document should help with the mediation, said Forest Service spokesman Phil Sammon, based in Missoula, Montana

"We were trying to give some better sideboards to the discussion so we can all move forward," he said. "We do want to come to a mutually agreed-on decision that satisfies the needs of everyone involved."

Sammon didn't have information on how the mediation was going, and Lewis declined to comment. It's unclear what the next step would be should mediation fail.

"A lot of this is really uncharted territory," Lewis said.

A General Electric Co. subsidiary that had hoped to move the megaloads intervened in the lawsuit on the side of the Forest Service, and it sought an emergency motion to stay Winmill's injunction. But Resources Conservation Company International dropped out in October, saying in a statement the equipment it was trying to move was important to its customers and it would find alternate shipment options.

It had wanted to move a 225-foot long, 640,000-pound load, traveling at night and requiring sections of the highway to be closed for short times. It had moved a similar megaload over the route in August, and 20 protesters were arrested trying to block the way, including Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Silas Whitman.

Despite the company changing plans, it's still important for the Forest Service to develop rules for the highway, Lewis said.

"Who knows who else might want to use that route?" he said. "We have to be ready for anybody who wants to use that route for megaloads."

The Nez Perce Tribe didn't return a call from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

In the document released Monday by the Forest Service, the tribe said it "is extraordinarily concerned about the escalating threat and ultimate cumulative impact of mega-load shipments degrading and impairing the resources, values and uses that make the corridor unique."

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