ITD attorneys back megaloads

Idaho Transportation Department director still hasn’t made final decision whether to issue permits

Associated Press

Saturday, January 15, 2011

BOISE – Attorneys for the Idaho Transportation Department are agreeing with the conclusions of a hearing officer who was appointed to weigh in on a series of controversial permits to ship oversized oil-refinery equipment along north central Idaho’s U.S. Highway 12.

Earlier this week, a group of local residents filed an appeal challenging the hearing examiner’s December decision that the agency should issue the permits to ConocoPhillips.

In its response Thursday, agency attorneys said the hearing examiner applied the correct legal standards in his review and recommendation. Agency lawyers also said opponents failed to produce relevant evidence that the shipments would cause them harm and that most issues raised by foes aren’t relevant to the ConocoPhillips permits.

If opponents of the oversized loads want to set new policy for commercial use of the highway, agency lawyers argued that the proper venue is federal or state legislation.

It’s still up to Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness to make a decision on whether to issue the permits. It’s unclear when he will make a final decision.

Transportation spokesman Adam Rush said Ness will review the appeal, ITD’s response, and a response ConocoPhillips made Wednesday.

ConocoPhillips wants to ship four giant loads containing coke drums from Lewiston to its refinery in Billings, Mont.

Another oil company, ExxonMobil Corp., is keenly interested in whether ConocoPhillips gets the permits because ExxonMobil wants to use the same northern Idaho route to truck more than 200 gigantic loads of oil equipment from the port city of Lewiston, through Montana, to the tar sands of northern Alberta, Canada. It will also need permits.

In ConocoPhillips’ response to the group’s appeal, the company said, “It is undisputed that ConocoPhillips and its transporter, Emmert International, have satisfied every requirement and have addressed every question posed by ITD.”

The company also said that delays to the shipments must end because the company needs to get the coke drums to the refinery in Billings, which it said produces 7 percent of Idaho’s gasoline.

The company has said it has lost $4 million due to delays caused by opposition to the moving the loads on U.S. 12, a federally designated scenic byway that parallels the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers in a narrow canyon.

The group tried to use the highway’s designation as leverage in preventing the permits from being issued, but the Transportation Department rejected that argument as well, citing the primary purpose of the route as commerce.

“Nowhere in the rules is the department allowed, much less required, to take into consideration these designations,” the state agency said.