Crowd questions big load permit

Concerns mirror those in Moscow, Lewiston over proposal to allow 200-plus oversized trucks on U.S. 12

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

KOOSKIA – Sweat was visible on the faces of many in a crowd of more than 100 as officials from the Idaho Transportation Department and Imperial Oil for the second consecutive day explained plans for more than 200 oversized loads to cross Idaho’s panhandle.

The concerns of those attending the Kooskia meeting Tuesday mirrored those that emerged at meetings in Moscow and Lewiston on Monday.

What precautions are in place to protect the safety of the residents of north central Idaho and the integrity of U.S. Highway 12 as the biggest cargo ever taken on it travels from the Port of Lewiston to the Montana border? What would happen if one of the loads slips into the Clearwater or Lochsa rivers? Who, other than Imperial Oil, would benefit economically?

The Korean-made oil processing equipment that would consume two lanes of traffic would be hauled from the Port of Lewiston on its way to the Kearl Oil Sands Project in Alberta, Canada. It would only move at night, from about 10 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. At those times, traffic averages about 10 vehicles per hour on the more eastern sections of U.S. 12, said Jim Carpenter, an engineer with ITD in Lewiston.

The loads can’t delay traffic more than 15 minutes, and off-duty Idaho State Patrol officers – paid by Imperial Oil, which is owned mostly by Exxon-Mobile – would accompany the loads. The officers would coordinate emergency responses such as helping those with medical emergencies heading to hospitals in private vehicles.

The weight of the loads, which will be as much as 580,000 pounds not counting a push truck, would be distributed over 112 tires on trailers.

A test module would take the route with ITD personnel before ITD issues any of the individual permits for the trips. The test module would have the dimensions, but not the weight, of the largest loads that will be 24 feet wide, 30 feet high and 210 feet long.

The loads would move slowly, taking three days between Lewiston and the Montana border, and ITD would allow just one to go each day and only if weather conditions permit. If a load slips into one of the rivers, Imperial Oil would summon a crane to remove it. The closest is in Spokane and could be on site within 10 hours.

Imperial Oil expects to spend $10.6 million in Idaho during the moves, counting what it pays flaggers, the ISP officers and other support personnel who will accompany the crews with the huge loads. The figure also includes a multiplier, based on the employees hired for the jobs spending their money at Idaho businesses.

Some indicated they felt that amount was low, especially considering nothing is requiring Imperial Oil to have a bond in case the road gets damaged and how the loads could hurt the tourism industry, one of the few forms of commerce thriving along the U.S. 12 corridor. ITD will look into the possibility of the bond since it received multiple comments inquiring about that possibility, Carpenter said.

“Imperial Oil believes there will be negligible impact on the tourism industry,” said Ken Johnson, Imperial Oil’s project leader for the modules who is based in Calgary.

Early in the open house, Linwood Laughy, a Kooskia-area resident who has been one of the most vocal opponents of the plans, successfully lobbied ITD to change the format of the meeting. It was organized as a session where the public would pose its questions individually to representatives of ITD or Imperial Oil.

Carpenter and another ITD employee initially declined Laughy’s request for questions to be answered in front of the crowd. Then Laughy spoke on a microphone as he walked around the room, encouraging those attending the meeting to support him. It was only then Carpenter agreed.

The majority of those attending the meeting appeared to oppose the loads. “I want to know how many people are going to have to die on Highway 12 to pack this stuff through,” said Ric Downing of Orofino, who noted one danger is how vehicles are more likely to pass each other after they’ve been delayed.

“This is a shameful scheme to alter and ruin the Clearwater and Lochsa,” said Shelley Dumas of Grangeville. “This is one of the most beautiful regions and river corridors in the world. … So many things could go wrong and they haven’t been addressed.”

But some support it. David Mager of Kamiah, who hauls wood shavings and chips in the corridor as a retirement job, said he didn’t mind losing 30 minutes a day.

The improvements Imperial Oil is doing are improving the conditions for all truck loads, Mager said. “I’m all for it.”

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