High court will hear mega-loads case Oct. 1

Choice to put case on fast track comes as ITD joins appeal of ruling that revoked permits

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Idaho Supreme Court announced Monday it will hear oral arguments on Oct. 1 in a case where four mega-truckloads have been blocked from travelling U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to the Montana border.

The decision of the Supreme Court comes after a ruling by 2nd District Judge John Bradbury to revoke permits issued by the Idaho Transportation Department for shipments of equipment to a ConocoPhillips oil refinery in Billings, Mont.

Bradbury’s ruling was appealed by the oil company, which has requested the case be heard on an accelerated schedule. Typically it takes the Supreme Court about six months to issue rulings.

Three Idaho entrepreneurs initiated the litigation in Idaho County citing concerns about safety, tourism and the pristine river corridor along which the loads would travel. The loads would likely have left the Port of Lewiston – where they are now parked – the week of Aug. 16 had it not been for the lawsuit.

The loads will consume two lanes of the highway and are supposed to travel only at night, pulling over every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass, taking four days to reach the Montana border.

It’s not clear if ConocoPhillips has other avenues to pursue to get the equipment moving ahead of the Supreme Court hearing. Erik Stidham, an attorney for ConocoPhillips, declined comment Monday.

“At this point, the permits that were issued have been revoked and no new permits have been issued,” said Jeff Stratten, a spokesman for ITD in Boise. “That’s what I can tell you.”

ConocoPhillips wants to get the refinery equipment across the Arrow Bridge about 15 miles east of Lewiston on U.S. Highway 12 during a break in a resurfacing project.

One side of the bridge has been finished and the resurfacing on the other side is on hold because of the court case. Emmert International, the company hired by ConocoPhillips to haul the cargo, is paying stand down fees to McAlvain Construction, the contractor working on the bridge through Sept. 7. The resurfacing work is supposed to be completed by late October.

The Supreme Court’s choice to put the case on a fast track came the same day ITD joined the appeal.

The agency objects to Bradbury’s ruling for a variety of reasons. The agency took the steps it believed were necessary to get the loads across the panhandle without compromising highways and bridges and with minimal effect to the traveling public, according to an ITD news release issued Monday.

Bradbury ruled ITD should have followed rules that limit traffic delays for oversized loads to 10 minutes instead of giving the ConocoPhillips loads 15 minutes.

ITD has discretion in applying that rule, said Brian Ness, the director of ITD in the news release. “There are many communities within Idaho where a manufactured home could not be located because it is not possible to get it there without delaying traffic for more than 10 minutes.”

Bradbury also ruled ITD didn’t examine if ConocoPhillips could get the Japanese-made equipment to Montana in a different way. “The department’s responsibility is to review the necessity of moving a large load on a requested Idaho highway, not to identify, review and judge all possible worldwide routes,” Ness said.

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