Imperial Oil's welcome is wearing a little thin outside The Lodge at Lolo Hot Springs. The company's gigantic test module—originally scheduled for a brief two-week stay—hasn't budged from there in four months. And with last month's injunction against the heavy haul, the load doesn't appear to be going anywhere for a while.
"At this point, I couldn't tell you for certain what our future plans for the module might be," says Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser. "Our plan is to have it parked there for an indefinite period while we await resolution of the preliminary injunction process."
That uncertainty has Lolo Hot Springs businesses a touch concerned. Lodge manager Michael Brady says the hotel is already $6,000 short compared to last year. The rent Imperial Oil's shipping company, Mammoet, is paying for the space "kinda sorta" makes up for the loss, Brady says. "They're paying $6,000 a month." But the peak tourism season is already waning, and guests have told him they consider the module "an ugly eyesore."
Since the module rests exclusively on the Lodge's property, the adjacent Lolo Hot Springs Resort receives no compensation from Mammoet. Yet manager David Barbe says they've experienced the same slump in business. "I have no problem with them coming through and being allowed through," Barbe says. "If they were just here for the two weeks, it wouldn't be an issue. Right now, they have no idea how long they're going to be sitting there."
Barbe estimates the resort lost $6,000 in a single day in mid-July during one of the resort's regular summer concerts. Earth First! protesters threatened to tinker with the module when they met nearby for their annual rendezvous. Brady called the Missoula County Sheriff's Department for additional security. Deputies were assigned to a 24-hour watch. Barbe claims the patrol cars—which remained for over a week—scared off concertgoers and potential guests alike.
"We saw a huge drop in sales with that because there's a bar there," Barbe says. "Most people come out, have a few drinks, sit in the hot tub and then leave. But everybody was all worried about it...they'd pull in the parking lot and then drive back out."
He blames Earth First! for that particular loss. But he and Brady hope the module moves on down the road soon—even if Imperial Oil has to dismantle it first.