Megaload arrives in Flathead Valley


KALISPELL, Mont. - NBC Montana is tracking the megaload headed for Great Falls. Haulers are preparing to drive through the Flathead Valley.

The load is carrying the first of three pieces of a refinery machine. It's taking a new route through Montana to avoid construction.

The megaload spent the day at a weigh station on U.S. Highway 2 west. Thursday night, it will travel up Meridian Road, one of the Flathead's busiest streets. Then, from Columbia Falls it will travel south on Swan Highway to Bigfork. Eventually, it will hit Highway 200 at the Clearwater Junction, and then head to Great Falls.

The last time a megaload moved through Missoula, protestors greeted it, and were arrested. NBC Montana found out that some people in the Flathead are plenty angry the load's moving through their backyard.

With all the push and pull trucks, the load weighs around 1 million pounds. It is very long -- about a football field in length.

"It's huge," said Leslie DeWitt, a Kalispell resident.

It's a first for Flathead residents to see a megaload pass through. That's why several people stopped to get a closer look.

"I just wanted to see, you know, I've seen big loads before, but I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about," said Flathead truck driver Melvin Marshall.

NBC Montana found out there is more to the load than a piece of equipment. People have mixed feelings about it.

"We're kind of excited to see this happen coming through our area. It means jobs in Montana, as far as I'm concerned, and it's not going to happen that often. So I really don't think it's a major concern," DeWitt said.

Some agree and say they think it will bring more money to the state. Others say hauling the megaload through Montana will threaten the environment. People are particularly worried when the load passes through the Swan Valley, a pristine forest area.

"If you've driven down the Swan, you know there are a lot of critters on the road. Deer, sometimes elk, bears, and so if we start having this is an industrial highway there is going to be an increase in wildlife fatalities," said Arlene Montgomery, from the Friends of Wild Swan.

Montgomery also worries about what the weight will do to the road. We found a long-haul trucker to put that concern into context.

"If you knew all the facts, you would understand that. That's why these loads have so many tires, to handle all the weight. So they don't destroy the roads or hurt the roads in any way," Marshall said.

There are more than 150 tires on the load, which help even out the weight. That's why Marshall thinks a normal car or truck probably does more damage than this load.

But, concerns aside, the load's a looker and people are stopping to stare.

The Montana Department of Transportation says it's been smooth sailing for the megaload. There have been no protests or traffic issues along the route.

Thursday will be the third night the load travels through Montana. It will make it way through the Flathead by the morning. It will be escorted by Montana Highway Patrol.

The other two pieces of refinery equipment making their way to Great Falls will not be taking the same route through the Flathead. Those will be transported by rail, along Interstate 15.

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