ITD sets hearing on loads to Montana

Permits pulled; hearing set for Dec. 8-9

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Idaho Transportation Department will hold a two-day hearing about four megaloads ConocoPhillips wants to haul from the Port of Lewiston to a Billings, Mont., refinery on U.S. Highway 12.

The agency issued permits for the loads earlier this month, but ITD put a stay on them pending the recommendation of a hearing officer about whether three opponents to the oversized loads would get a chance to present their concerns in a formal contested hearing.

Last week the hearing officer, Merlyn Clark, a Boise attorney, sided with the three opponents, Linwood Laughy, his wife, Karen Hendrickson, and Peter Grubb. On Monday, ITD announced it would follow the recommendation and pull back the previously issued permits.

The hearing has been set for Dec. 8 and 9 in Boise, and Clark will preside. “ConocoPhillips currently doesn’t have approved permits,” wrote Adam Rush, a spokesman for ITD in an e-mail. “They would have to reapply for the permits from the transportation department.”

Since spring, opponents have been clamoring for ITD to give more credibility to their concerns about the permits for the ConocoPhillips’ loads and more than 200 similarly sized shipments sought by ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil.

Opponents are worried ITD isn’t doing enough to protect the safety of motorists on U.S. Highway 12. They’re also concerned about protecting the pristine nature of the river canyon that the highway traverses.

ITD has promised it would only allow the loads, which will take up both lanes of traffic, to travel at night when weather conditions permit. The ConocoPhillips loads would usually pull over every 10 minutes and be accompanied by a Lewiston ambulance at no expense to taxpayers.

The issue has been simmering since at least May, when two Japanese-made drums critical to a spring rehabilitation of a ConocoPhillips refinery arrived at the Port of Lewiston by barge before ITD issued permits for them.

Initially the drums, split in two for the journey, couldn’t leave because work on the Arrow Bridge took longer than anticipated. The bridge is a place where U.S. 12 crosses the Clearwater River near Spalding.

Then, opponents of the megaloads filed litigation that went to the Idaho Supreme Court. The state’s high court ruled it didn’t have jurisdiction, opening the door for the process ITD is now following.

As the process gets lengthier, worries of ConocoPhillips are growing. The oil company has indicated it could lose as much as $40 million if the drums don’t arrive in time for the rehabilitation project at an undisclosed date.

ConocoPhillips isn’t the only company that wants to use U.S. Highway 12 to haul overlegal loads. ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil would like to move 207 modules to a processing plant at the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, on the same route in the next year. The first of those Korean-manufactured modules have been barged to the Port of Lewiston and have yet to receive permits from ITD.

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