ITD gets an earful at megaload meeting

Project manager offers up assurances, but not everyone in Moscow is buying them

By Joel Mills of the Tribune
May 12, 2011

MOSCOW – More than 200 people gathered here Wednesday night to offer a wide variety of opinions on Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil’s plans to ship 33 giant loads of oil refining equipment on U.S. Highway 95.

The oil company is seeking permits from the Idaho Transportation Department to ship the loads from Lewiston over the highway to Interstate 90 in Coeur d’Alene. The meeting was billed as an opportunity for ITD to take public input to inform its decision on what Division II Administrator Alan Frew described as a lengthy process.

Some people bought Imperial project manager Ken Johnson’s assurances that every contingency has been anticipated and planned for, while others asked pointed questions and offered strong opposition.

Norm Metzger of Troy said he has lived in Latah County for more than 50 years, spending 10 years driving trucks on its highways and the rest in construction. He said he welcomed the loads.

“This is what makes growth,” Metzger said to a smattering of applause.

A visibly agitated Nelson Montz of Moscow said he wasn’t listening to what Johnson said, but how he said it.

“The deal is done,” Montz said to Johnson. “That’s the way it appears. You’ve painted a pretty picture, and tried to calm the citizenry here. I thought this thing was up for debate.”

Montz demanded that ITD set strong limitations on how the modules are transported, if permits are issued. And he had a few more words for Johnson.

“We really don’t give a rip what you decided in your board rooms when your oil company decided what you’re going to do or not going to do.”

The modules, which are sitting at the Port of Lewiston, are bound for the Kearl Oil Sands project in northern Alberta. Johnson told the crowd that delays caused by opposition to the initial plan to ship the loads over U.S. Highway 12 has driven the oil company to seek alternate routes.

“U.S. 12 is still our preferred route,” Johnson said. But the construction schedule at the Kearl site requires the modules to be at the job site before bad weather hits later this year.

So the oil company is busy chopping the modules in Lewiston to a height that can maneuver under the overpasses on Interstate 90 east into Montana, then north on Interstate 15 to the Canada border.

The plan Johnson presented called for a two-night schedule for each module on U.S. 95. On the first night, it would leave Lewiston at 10 p.m. After about 60 miles of travel, the load would stop in a large turnout around 4 a.m.

On the second night, the module would leave the turnout at 9 p.m. and get through Coeur d’Alene by 4 a.m.

Each module would weigh between 200,000 and 380,000 pounds, including tractor and trailer, he said. They would vary between 170 and 208 feet long, 20 and 24 feet wide and 10 and 15 feet, 10 inches high. The size of the loads would block trailing and oncoming traffic while the modules are on two-lane stretches of the highway, but 44 identified turnouts will allow the modules to move aside at least every 15 minutes, meeting an ITD requirement, Johnson said.

Much of the plan is similar to the approach the oil company is using on the modules it is shipping over U.S. 12. That includes for emergency response, with Idaho State Police troopers – paid for by the oil company – escorting each load.

ISP Capt. Lonnie Richardson said his troopers will facilitate communications with emergency vehicles, so the modules can move aside well in advance. A spotter vehicle will also travel 10 to 15 miles ahead of each module, Johnson said, so that personal vehicles taking people to the hospital can be accounted for.

The modules will move through Moscow at approximately 1 a.m., and the oil company is in talks with Gritman Medical Center so that access to the hospital won’t be hampered, Johnson said.

Some trees near the hospital will need to be trimmed, he said. That brought an angry response from Joan Muneta, who asked Johnson what right an oil company had to trim trees on private property.

“Your problems don’t amount to an emergency for us,” Muneta said.

Johnson said his people would work with those concerned on the tree trimming issue.

By press time, no time line had been given for the permitting process, other than Frew saying it would be lengthy.

Mills may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 883-0564.