Idaho agency places a stay on the permits to allow time for more public involvement in the process
By Elaine Williams of the Tribune
Thursday, November 11, 2010
The Idaho Transportation Department issued permits Wednesday for four ConocoPhillips megaloads to travel from Idaho to Montana on U.S. Highway 12, but put a stay on them to allow more public involvement in the process.
ITD director Brian Ness appointed Merlyn Clark, a Boise attorney, as a hearing officer who will decide if intervenor status will be granted to Borg Hendrickson, Linwood Laughy and Peter Grubb as they have requested, according to the agency.
“Until the preliminary legal matter relating to (the) petition to intervene is heard and resolved by the hearing officer, I have decided to stay the validity of the over-legal permits to ConocoPhillips,” according to a memorandum Ness issued Wednesday. It was provided by Hendrickson and Laughy to the Tribune.
Ness wants attorneys from all parties involved in the proceedings to provide legal briefings to Clark about whether Laughy, Hendrickson and Grubb should be granted intervenor status, as well as if ITD must conduct formal contested case hearings.
ITD’s action comes about 11/2 weeks after the Idaho Supreme Court issued a decision that said it had no jurisdiction in the case. At the same time, the court suggested ITD hadn’t completed its process, leaving open the potential resolution to the conflict that ITD appears to be pursuing.
No time has been set for the proceeding about granting intervenor status to Hendrickson, Laughy and Grubb, according to ITD.
Laird Lucas, executive director with Advocates for the West, the group providing legal counsel for Hendrickson, Laughy and Grubb, said he would be surprised if the process is finished by Nov. 19. ITD is supposed to file a brief on Monday and Advocates for the West gets a chance to respond, Lucas said.
Hendrickson, Laughy and Grubb are the ones who initiated litigation that went to the Idaho Supreme Court aimed at blocking the ConocoPhillips cargo from using U.S. Highway 12 as a route to a Billings, Mont., refinery.
ConocoPhillips has already objected to the three becoming intervenors for numerous reasons, in a document it filed with ITD.
“Highways of the United States were constructed with federal funds and state monies to facilitate interstate commerce,” according to the document. “The proposed intervenors chose to move near or locate businesses near U.S. 12 and wrongly assert that the use of U.S. 12 for commercial purposes has been or should be restricted.”
The document underlines the importance of the drums waiting at the Port of Lewiston to the economy of Montana and Idaho. The refinery where the drums are headed employs 400 people and provided Idaho with more than 7 percent of its gasoline in 2009, according to the document. Those numbers don’t count another 1,700 people working on the construction project that involves the drums.
“These (new) drums are intended to replace the drums currently in use at the Billings refinery and are critical to the continued safe, reliable and uninterrupted operation of that refinery,” according to the document.
The document also notes an ambulance and paramedic will accompany each ConocoPhillips megaload at no cost to the public, to ensure the cargo doesn’t delay medical treatment for those with severe illnesses or injuries hurrying to the hospital.
The opposition to the megaloads focuses on concerns about potential damage to the road and the pristine river corridor it follows, as well as worries that more measures are needed to make the movement of the rigs safe for other motorists.
Opponents also are apprehensive that if ITD allows the ConocoPhillips loads to pass, it will make it easier for more than 200 similarly sized megaloads of Imperial Oil to use Highway 12 as they head to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. Sixteen of those loads are already waiting at the Port of Lewiston.
Getting permission to travel through Idaho is only one of the obstacles ConocoPhillips has to overcome. The oil company has yet to receive a permit from the Montana Department of Transportation, in part because the agency has been waiting for Idaho to give a go-ahead.
MDT also wants assurances that piloted traffic in at least one direction can be established within four hours if one of the rigs is in an accident, said Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation.
ITD didn’t directly respond to an inquiry from the Tribune about if it would impose such a condition. Pulling over every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass and traveling only at night are among the requirements ITD previously indicated it would put on the ConocoPhillips and Imperial Oil megaloads.
The action of ITD late Wednesday afternoon followed a day of posturing from groups on both sides of the issue. Friends of the Clearwater, an environmental group, was recruiting people to monitor the megaloads as they travel.
“It’s simply the public taking responsibility for serving as watchdogs on our public highways,” said Brett Haverstick, a spokesman for Friends of the Clearwater in Moscow.
The volunteers will record the speeds of the trucks, how long it’s taking them to go from one pullout to another and make observations about road conditions, Haverstick said.
The information might be shared with ITD, the Idaho State Police and Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter, Haverstick said.
Drive Our Ecomony, a group that originated in Montana, announced it has expanded into Idaho. The first Idaho members of the group, which already includes the Montana Chamber of Commerce, are the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and the Idaho Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said Ken Burgess, a Boise resident, who’s a spokesman for the group.
The organizations are concerned about the Supreme Court case potentially setting a precedent that results in a lengthier process for the thousands of over-legal loads ITD processes each year to move goods for the lumber, agriculture, energy and housing industries, Burgess said.
Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.
Saturday in Kamiah
KAMIAH – Community members concerned about the megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 are invited to a meeting at the Wa A Yas Community Center here.
The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and will include a covered-dish dinner. Concerned tribal members, The Friends of the Clearwater and Rivers United will be present to discuss options and where the issues stands.
More information about the meeting is available by calling Julian Matthews at (208) 790-4296 or Meridith Moffett at (208) 935-2846.