The long night

Augusta residents Lorna and Pete Scott took to Highway 287 shortly after midnight on Oct. 6. Lorna's mother was suffering an apparent heart attack. The family decided to drive her to the Teton Medical Center, in Choteau. But the normally 25-minute drive lasted nearly an hour—due to an oversized industrial shipment.

The hold-up began when the Scotts encountered a military vehicle driving about 20 miles per hour. They saw flashing lights and at first assumed it was a military exercise. They put on their hazard lights to warn vehicles ahead that they had a medical emergency, to no avail.

"There was nothing we could do," Lorna says. "We couldn't see a patrol car. We could see nothing but flashing lights, and many of them, in front of us."

When the convoy causing the obstruction pulled over, the Scotts discovered it was an oversized load. It belonged to Nickel Bros., a Washington-based company transporting machinery through Montana along the same route proposed for industrial shipment by Exxon Mobil subsidiary Imperial Oil.

According to Montana Department of Transportation spokesman Duane Williams, Nickel Bros. intends to position flaggers at key junctions to avoid such incidents in the future.

Scott says she saw no flaggers Oct. 6.

Her incident was an isolated one, but it does underscore the public safety concerns voiced by megaload detractors over a year ago, when Imperial Oil first announced its Kearl Module Transportation Project.

MDT has repeatedly stated that turnouts would be constructed to allow the megaloads to comply with state law, which forbids traffic delays of more than 10 minutes. However, the turnouts were proposed as part of Imperial Oil's beleaguered KMTP and have yet to be constructed between Augusta and Choteau.

Scott, who grew up in the area, says she's never experienced such a delay. She still supports Imperial Oil's transportation plan and its Canadian tar sands project, she says. "Our country needs energy. I'm not a rabble-rouser."

Her mother made it to the emergency room and recovered without further incident. MDT later contacted Scott to apologize.

Williams says another oversized-load delay occurred north of Choteau recently, though it was not an emergency situation, like the Scott's. He says he hasn't heard yet from Nickel Bros. regarding if and when they've notified local law enforcement of their movements, as required by permit.

Eighteen Nickel Bros. loads have made it to Alberta so far. Five more are listed as en-route, with two scheduled to roll through Augusta late this week. Both of those are oversized, Williams says.

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