ITD sets hearing on four big-load permits

Move aims to resolve conflict between oil company, opponents

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A hearing will be conducted Friday to determine if the Idaho Transportation Department needs to allow more public involvement before four ConocoPhillips megaloads can begin their journey from the Port of Lewiston to a Billings, Mont., refinery.

The scheduling of the hearing at ITD’s Boise office follows an announcement by ITD earlier in the week it would have the proceeding before it will lift a stay on the load permits.

The development is part of ITD’s attempt to resolve a conflict between the oil company and three opponents of the megaloads who initiated litigation that went to the Idaho Supreme Court.

The court ruled it had no jurisdiction in the case, but suggested ITD hadn’t completed its process, opening the door for the way the agency is handling the issue now.

ConocoPhillips disagrees with ITD’s stance and believes its cargo, stranded at the Port of Lewiston since May, should move without delay.

Two issues yet to be resolved are whether Borg Hendrickson, Linwood Laughy and Peter Grubb will be given status as intervenors, and if ITD will conduct a formal contested hearing for the ConocoPhillips permits.

The hearing officer could issue a decision Friday or make the ruling at a later date, wrote Jeff Stratten in an e-mail. “There is no time limitation for the hearing officer to issue a ruling.”

The three want to be considered intervenors because it would allow them to present evidence if ITD has a contested hearing, said Laird Lucas, executive director of Advocates for the West in Boise, which is providing the trio legal counsel.

A contested hearing is different than the open houses ITD conducted in the summer about megaloads, because the testimony provided would be recorded and turned into a transcript, Lucas said.

Opponents are concerned about the ConocoPhillips shipments because they believe if ITD allows them to take U.S. Highway 12 to Montana, that will pave the way for more than 200 similarly sized shipments from ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil to use the same route. They’re also worried not enough precautions have been taken to protect motorists and the river canyon that U.S. 12 parallels.

ITD has indicated its decisions for the two companies will be made independently. ITD has also promised it will require the megaloads to pull over every 15 minutes as they travel at night under escort by Idaho State Police troopers.

ConocoPhillips contends it’s taking numerous safety measures, including sending an ambulance with each load at no cost to the public as well as moving the cargo with two trucks that can each independently maneuver the cargo if the need arose.

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