Megaload draws a crowd in Unity

Written by Baker City Herald December 17, 2013 11:27 am

Photo by Laurene Munger The first of three planned “megaloads” on Highway 26 near Unity on Tuesday.
Photo by Laurene Munger The first of three planned “megaloads” on Highway 26 near Unity on Tuesday.

By Jayson Jacoby

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They call it a “megaload” but so far as Gary Munger is concerned, it was “the biggest parade that’s been through Unity for ages.”

Many of the southern Baker County town’s 70 residents turned out Tuesday afternoon to watch the 901,000-pound load of oil refining equipment roll past at a sedate 30 mph or so.

Munger and his wife, Laurene, watched the massive machinery go by near the Burnt River Community Church, where Gary serves as pastor.

The church is along Highway 26 about 3 1/2 miles west of Unity.

The route was known but the timing was a surprise.

 

Usually the megaload, which takes up both lanes of a two-lane highway, is allowed to travel only between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. because it causes traffic delays of up to 20 minutes due to its size.

But on Tuesday the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) gave the trucking company, Omega Morgan, permission to travel during daylight hours, Tuesday only.

The purpose for the change, according to ODOT, was to allow the truck to negotiate the sharp curves of Eldorado Pass, east of Unity, before dark, when ice tends to form on the highway.

ODOT traffic studies showed that traffic volumes along that stretch of Highway 26 are not significantly higher during the day than at night, ODOT spokesman Tom Strandberg said.

The load continued for about 20 miles beyond Unity, parking for the night about five miles east of Ironside, Strandberg said.

The megaload is scheduled to get back on the highway about 8 p.m. tonight, and it could make it as far as Vale before stopping early Thursday, Strandberg said.

The megaload, the first of three that are slated to haul equipment to a tar sands oil development in Alberta, Canada, along the same route, was delayed on Monday when protesters chained themselves to disabled vehicles parked in the highway at two places near John Day.

Sixteen people were arrested, according to The Oregonian.

No arrests were reported in Baker County as a result of the megaload.

The 30-some students at Burnt River School got a close-up look at the megaload as it traveled through Unity.

“We all got to go out and watch it,” said Debbie Gregg, the district’s deputy clerk. “It stopped in front of the school. It was quite an awesome sight.”

In addition to the size of the load, Gregg was impressed by the entourage that traveled with it.

“The police escort, all the pilot cars. It was just amazing to see how it was put together to haul it down the road,”she said.

The students and adults were thrilled by the sight, Gregg said.

“They were talking loudly and waving their hands saying look at this, look at that,” she said. “We all had our cellphones out and were clicking pictures.

“It’s been a big deal.”

Gary Munger called the school to alert the staff that the load would unexpectedly be traveling through the community during daylight hours.

The two other megaloads have not been scheduled, Strandberg said.

Chris Collins of the Baker City Herald contributed to this story.