Lawsuit stalls mega-loads

Transportation department was to issue permits for ConocoPhillips loads bound for Billings today

By Kathy Hedberg of the Tribune

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

GRANGEVILLE – A plan by the Idaho Department of Transportation to issue four permits today allowing the shipments of mega-sized oil equipment along U.S. Highway 12 was stalled after a lawsuit was filed Monday asking for a temporary injunction.

Jeff Stratton, spokesman for the transportation department, said Monday afternoon it was the intent of the department to issue four permits to ConocoPhillips sometime today. The permits would require a $10 million damage bond recommended by Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter after he received comments at three public meetings, and his Capital for a Day meeting in Pierce two weeks ago.

The department decided to wait until a judge could review the lawsuit, Stratton said. That review could happen as early as today.

Stratton said the department’s legal counsel, deputy attorney general Karl Vogt, has not had time to review the lawsuit and the department had no further comment at this time.

The lawsuit filed Monday seeks a temporary restraining order barring ConocoPhillips from hauling big equipment from Lewiston to Billings, Mont., starting as early as Wednesday. The loads would be the first of more than 200 planned over the next year, although only four are scheduled to make the trip to Billings. The two massive ConocoPhillips oil drums are at the Port of Lewiston awaiting shipment, and will be transported in halves. Each of the loads bound for Billings is 25-feet in diameter and weighs more than 187 tons.

Imperial Oil, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp., also wants to haul heavy equipment from Lewiston to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. Some of those loads would weigh as much as 290 tons and stretch as long as 210 feet, as wide as 24 feet and as high as 30 feet.

Opposition to the plan has been building for months.

The lawsuit claims the ConocoPhillips shipments would threaten public safety, damage tourism and pose a risk to the pristine river corridor.

The litigation was filed in Idaho County by Karen (Borg) Hendrickson, Linwood Laughy and Peter Grubb, all of whom are owners of businesses that depend on tourism, Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson and Laughy, who are married, own Mountain Meadow Press and Lewis Clark Idaho Road Tours plus Cedar Creek Creations, in which one of their daughters and son-in-law are partial owners.

Grubb is the founder of ROW Adventures, which runs rafting trips on the Lochsa River. He also operates businesses with lodging and a restaurant along U.S. Highway 12 about 90 miles east of Lewiston.

In the complaint Hendrickson, Laughy and Grubb claim the transportation department “brushed off” their concerns about the ongoing construction of U.S. Highway 12 and the oil equipment shipments.

“We don’t want the Clearwater/Lochsa corridor turned into an industrial truck route which we feel would kill its reputation as a tourist destination and haven for outdoor recreation,” Hendrickson said.

She also pointed out a safety factor for people living upriver who might have medical emergencies and would not be able to use the highway for certain periods of time.

Grubb said the transportation department’s seeming indifference to the concerns of the public, “indicates to me that ITD is not seriously considering public convenience and safety.

“It is totally inappropriate to transform Highway 12 along the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers into such an industrial corridor for oversized loads,” Grubb said. “It is contradictory to the intent of Congress clearly defined when the rivers were designated as federally protected Wild and Scenic rivers in 1968.”

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.

To read the court documents: