Big batch of megaloads OK’d

33 loads already at Port of Lewiston will be reduced in height; no hearing date yet for testimony from opponents

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Idaho Transportation Department has issued a decision to let ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil ship megaloads on U.S. Highway 12.

But the agency will hear testimony from opponents before all but a test module leaves the Port of Lewiston, where it and 33 more of the oversized shipments have been barged from Korea. The test module is scheduled to leave Lewiston on Feb. 22.

“No impact to the Idaho environment or scenery will occur since the transports will make use of existing Idaho infrastructure with no road alterations being required,” according to the memorandum of decision written by Alan Frew, ITD’s administrator of the division of motor vehicles.

The news Monday came as the number of loads the company wants to move on U.S. 12 dropped. Sixty of the megaloads are being transported from the Port of Vancouver by Interstate to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, said Pius Rolheiser, a spokesman for Imperial Oil in Calgary, Alberta. The 33 megaloads already at the Port of Lewiston are being reduced in height so they can travel on Interstate, Rolheiser said.

The route they will use hasn’t been determined, but it won’t involve U.S. 12, Rolheiser said.

Delays in obtaining the permits prompted the oil company to split what had been 33 shipments into 60, which are sized such that they can now make it safely underneath interstate overpasses, Rolheiser said.

Doing so is costing more than $500,000 per module, according to information ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil provided ITD.

Transport of the remaining 114 oversized loads will be spread out over about a year, Rolheiser said. When they will start moving is not clear. ITD has appointed a hearing officer, Merlyn Clark, a Boise attorney, to preside at the hearing where ITD, the oil company and opponents will present testimony. A date hasn’t been set yet for the hearing.

Clark was the hearing officer who issued a recommendation supporting ITD’s decision to allow four oversized shipments of ConocoPhillips to use U.S. 12 on their way to a refinery in Billings, Mont.

ITD is imposing a number of conditions on ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil’s megaloads that are related to concerns opponents raised in written and oral comments last summer.

ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil might have to cut a load into pieces if it should end up in the river on its journey across Idaho, according to ITD’s responses to comments issued at the end of January.

The company has to be prepared for scenarios such as jack-knifing, a partial roll-off from the trailer and a rollover into water, according to ITD’s responses to more than 200 comments. “Imperial Oil may require a salvage team to cut the load into sections so that it can be removed from blocking the road or water.”

Such a situation is exceedingly unlikely, according to ITD. “… ITD does not consider the potential for a serious accident/event to present a significant safety risk or impact to the public given the final approved traffic control plan.”

The ITD response to that issue makes no reference to an accident Mammoet had in East Chicago, Ind., in July where a load dropped from one of its trucks. Mammoet is the transport company ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil has hired to move its megaloads.

ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil also has agreed to pay for an ambulance to travel with the megaload.

Such precautions are in addition to ones already imposed by ITD, such as having the megaload pull over once every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass, traveling only between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. and requiring the oil company to pay for an escort by Idaho State Police.

How the plans of ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil mesh with those of ConocoPhillips is not clear.

One half-drum for ConocoPhillips is waiting just inside Montana, having completed its trek across Idaho on U.S. 12 late Friday night.

The trip started on Feb. 1 at the Port of Lewiston, where the oil company has shipped four halves of drums manufactured in Japan for a rehabilitation of its refinery in Billings. The journey was supposed to take four nights, but it stretched to almost two weeks. Some nights the megaload couldn’t travel due to weather. Other segments of the journey were spread into more nights so fewer miles were covered.

The half-drum will wait in Montana until another half is shipped from Lewiston on the same route. ITD has issued no date for that trip to start. Then the two will convoy together to Billings in a trip expected to take about two weeks. Previously ConocoPhillips has stated it would like the second two drum-halves to move at the end of March and early April.

Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.