Mega-loads: Idaho lawmakers supported plan in ’09 letter

More information has surfaced since; hearing set for Friday

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Idaho’s congressional delegation offered its support for oversized loads using the Port of Lewiston long before most north central Idaho residents knew about the possibility.

Four loads for Conoco Phillips were poised this week to use U.S. Highway 12 on their way to a Billings, Mont., oil refinery.

Those shipments have been blocked for now by a temporary restraining order 2nd District Court Judge John Bradbury issued in Idaho County. A hearing is set for Friday.

Imperial Oil, which is owned mostly by ExxonMobil, wants to move more oversized loads on Highway 12 bound for the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. The shipments would start in November. The loads of both companies would consume two lanes.

“We extend our thanks to ExxonMobil and Imperial Oil for their interest in utilizing the Port of Lewiston,” according to a letter dated Feb. 5, 2009, addressed to the Lewiston port commission.

“Please accept this letter as the congressional delegation’s intent to work with ExxonMobil, Imperial Oil and the Port of Lewiston to develop this shipping route,” the letter reads. “Please keep the delegation informed on the development of this project and how we may be of assistance.”

The letter was signed by Sen. Mike Crapo, Sen. James Risch, Rep. Mike Simpson and Rep. Walt Minnick.

The letter was written at a time when the Port of Lewiston had competition in Washington, said Lindsay Nothern, press secretary for Crapo. “The letter was meant to show our support for these shipments coming through an Idaho port as opposed to a facility outside the state.”

TGM, a private business at the Port of Wilma just west of Clarkston, has off-loaded oversized cargo previously, but it is not in negotiations with Imperial Oil now, said Gaylord Newbry, an owner of the business.

Newbry backs the Port of Lewiston’s efforts to get the business. The port doesn’t have a signed contract for the Imperial Oil loads.

More information has surfaced about Imperial Oil’s plans since the letter was written, said Brad Hoaglund, a spokesman for Risch. “I don’t know if anyone knew at the time what the size of those modules was going to be.”

Minnick was the only member of the delegation to participate in a comment period sponsored by the Idaho Transportation Department, the agency the loads would be permitted through.

Minnick wanted the issue to be researched more, but did not take a position for or against the loads. He raised a number of questions such as if the cost of maintaining the route outweighs the economic benefits to the region and state.

Minnick didn’t specifically address a question from the Tribune Wednesday about why it was only this summer that he began pushing for more public input.

“I will always support any proposal with positive long-term prospects for Idaho’s economy,” Minnick wrote in an e-mail. “This could be one of those projects. However, although this is a state issue, it has become clear to my office that everyone impacted should have more opportunities to be heard.”

Simpson also underlined the state’s role in the process in his response. “Congressman Simpson believes this is an issue for the state of Idaho to resolve,” wrote Nikki Watts, his communications director in an e-mail.

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