Judge will make the call on mega-loads

Temporary restraining order delays U.S. Highway 12 shipments for now; arguments will be aired at district court hearing set Friday

By Kathy Hedberg of the Tribune

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
GRANGEVILLE – A temporary restraining order was issued Tuesday by Judge John H. Bradbury that put on hold the Idaho Transportation Department’s plan to issue four permits to ConocoPhillips.

The permits would have required a $10 million damage bond to move four loads of equipment from the Port of Lewiston to Billings, Mont., starting as early as today. Bradbury cited the “great damage” the shipments might cause.

A hearing has been scheduled in 2nd District court here Friday at 9 a.m. to determine whether the judge would issue a ruling that bars the ITD from issuing permits allowing mega-sized oil equipment to move along scenic U.S. Highway 12.

Three Idaho County residents filed a lawsuit in district court Monday asking for the restraining order. The plaintiffs claim the ConocoPhillips shipments would threaten public safety, damage tourism and pose a risk to the pristine river corridor.

Later this year, Exxon Mobil Corp. is targeting the same roadway for as many as 200 shipments of Korean-made equipment destined for the Kearl Oil Sands project in Alberta. Officials estimate each load will weigh more than 300 tons, reach 27 feet high and stretch 29 feet wide, taking up both lanes of the roadway and slowing nighttime traffic along the winding, two-lane highway.

In his ruling, Bradbury sided with the plaintiffs, finding on his initial reading of their case the ITD may be violating its own regulations in issuing permits to ConocoPhillips.

Karen (Borg) Hendrickson, Linwood Laughy and Peter Grubb, all of whom live and run businesses along Highway 12, say transporting the oil equipment would turn the corridor into an industrial zone, which was not the intent of Congress when it designated the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers as Wild and Scenic. They cite noise, increased traffic, traffic delays and possible medical emergencies due to the equipment transportation.

The plaintiffs also claim the transportation department brushed off their concerns when they were voiced during public hearings about the project.

The loads would be the first of more than 200 planned over the next year by ConocoPhillips and Imperial Oil, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp. The massive oil coker drums halted Tuesday are 25 feet in diameter and weigh more than 187 tons.

The plaintiffs are represented by Natalie J. Havlina of Advocate for the West of Boise.

Hedberg may be contacted at
[email protected] or (208) 983-2326.