Final decision on megaloads permits awaits appeals process

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A final decision on the permits for four ConocoPhillips megaloads stranded at the Port of Lewiston won’t be issued until Tuesday at the earliest.

A hearing officer sided last week with the Idaho Transportation Department, which previously granted the permits for the megaloads to use U.S. Highway 12 on their way to a Billings, Mont., refinery.

The opinion of the hearing officer, Merlyn Clark, a Boise attorney, is now on the desk of Brian Ness, ITD’s director, who is waiting until 14 days have passed in which opponents can appeal, said Adam Rush, a spokesman for ITD in Boise. “He’s taking some time to review Mr. Clark’s recommendation.”

Megaload opponents are still weighing their response. “I just don’t think we’re going to roll over and allow something like this to occur,” said Linwood Laughy, one of 12 opponents who have been named intervenors in the case.

ConocoPhillips and ITD maintain they had taken every precaution necessary to make the shipments safe and inconvenience the public as little as possible.

The cargo will be the heaviest ever to travel on U.S. 12 and take up both lanes of traffic. It will take four nights to reach the Montana border as the loads are escorted by off-duty state police paid for by the oil company. The loads will pull over at regular intervals to allow traffic to pass.

Opponents allege those precautions aren’t enough, especially considering the megaload trucks will be going on a twisty road through a narrow canyon that parallels three rivers.

Laughy, his wife Borg Hendrickson and Peter Grubb filed litigation in mid-August just about as ITD was going to issue the permits.

That litigation went to Idaho’s Supreme Court, which ruled it had no jurisdiction, opening the door for the process ITD is following now.

ITD conducted a hearing in December where the opponents, ITD and ConocoPhillips, presented testimony before Clark, who then made his recommendation.

Since Laughy, Hendrickson and Grubb initiated the legal battle, they have been joined by nine others, most of whom plan to continue their involvement when the fight moves to the next phase involving 207 megaloads for ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil.

ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil wants to ship components of a processing plant to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada on U.S. 12. A total of 34 ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil loads have been shipped to the Port of Lewiston even though ITD hasn’t issued permits for them.

The nine other intervenors are:

John Crock, the owner of Hyperspud Sports in Moscow.

Janice and Roger Inghram, a Grangeville-area couple who run a photography business. She is retired from working a number of jobs in education including as a teacher, and he is a retired line superintendent for Idaho County Light and Power. They have lived in north central Idaho all their lives.

Owen and Mary Ann Fiore, who live next to the middle fork of the Clearwater River on U.S. 12 near Syringa. He is a retired tax attorney and she is a retired school teacher. Members of her family first moved to the area about 100 years ago.

Gail and Richard Ryan, who live along U.S. 12, east of Kooskia. They’re both retired nurses.

Ruth May, owner of Reflections Inn, along U.S. 12.

Julian Matthews, a Nez Perce Tribal member, who serves as the vice chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Housing Authority.

Concerns about access to medical care and worries about losing access to recreation on the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers are among the reasons some opponents cited for taking their stance.

“(Oil companies) are essentially using the Idaho roads to save them money without any regard for this as a wild and scenic corridor and a place where people recreate, where people try to do business,” Gail Ryan said.

Owen Fiore supports use of U.S. 12 as a commercial route, but wants limits imposed on that kind of traffic. “If (one) 30 feet (tall) goes through maybe the next one will be 40 feet. The road was never intended to have loads of this size.”

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