Protesters get mega-loud: Tribes sing, hold ceremony as second megaload begins trek

George Plavin, December 23, 2013 —  Pendleton climate activists joined in solidarity with Umatilla tribal members and elders Monday night as the second of three controversial megaloads rolls through Eastern Oregon to the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada.About 50 people gathered along Highway 395 near St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, where the convoy was parked after departing the Port of Umatilla late Sunday.  Together, they held signs and sang songs of prayer while police kept watch over the demonstration.Industrial hauler Omega Morgan, of Hillsboro, is trucking the enormous shipment of oil refinery equipment on its route south through the John Day Valley, before crossing east over state lines into Idaho.  Protesters were attempting to block the first load in Hermiston and Pendleton, speaking out against oil extraction that damages the environment.

“We are contributing and allowing our state to be used to expand one of the most environmentally destructive projects on the planet,”said Trip Jennings, of the activist group Portland Rising Tide. “We’re assuming the risk, and seeing none of the benefit.  All we’re seeing is more carbon coming from the tar sands.”

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, meanwhile, has opposed the Oregon Department of Transportation’s decision to permit the megaloads over ceded land without proper consultation between state and tribal governments.

Protesters were active attempting to block the first load through Oregon, which finally crossed over into Idaho over the weekend. The second load is similar in size, though slightly smaller 380 feet long, 23 feet wide and weighing approximately 804,000 pounds.

Tribal elder Art McConville said they remain concerned about anything causing damage to the land and ecosystem.  Their prayers asked for safety and protection, not only for the environment but everybody involved along the route as well.

“It’s a lot of sacred area out there,”McConville said.  “There’s a lot of ceremonial activities that go on all across the land.  We’re concerned about anything that could contaminate the earth.”

Alexandra Amonette, of Richland, Wash., said climate change is the most important issue affecting everyone today.  People have to learn to stop burning fossil fuels and transition to a clean energy economy, she said.

“We absolutely can’t do these tar sands, where this megaload is going,”Amonette said.  “They’re unconventional fossil fuels. We can’t burn them up, or we will overheat the planet.”

In addition, Jennings said groups are looking to keep the route from becoming a long-term industrial corridor to reach the oil sands. Erik Zander, project manager with Omega Morgan, has said there are no plans to use the route beyond these three loads.

The megaload is only permitted to travel between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., with occasional daytime travel on rural highways under special conditions outlined in the project permit, according to ODOT. It will not travel Tuesday or Wednesday during the Christmas holiday.

Drivers can expect delays of up to 20 minutes when the megaload is on the road. Updates will be posted online at www.tripcheck.com.

Contact: George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com

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