Megaload could gear up tonight

Imperial Oil test run awaits decision after causing power outage during journey on U.S. 12

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Tonight is the earliest an Imperial Oil test module is expected to resume its journey across Idaho on U.S. Highway 12.

The three-story-tall, 24-foot-wide, nearly 250-foot-long transport hit an Avista support line three miles east of Orofino at about 1:45 a.m. Tuesday. That triggered a chain reaction that caused an electrical outage of almost five hours for about 1,300 residents of the Pierce and Weippe areas, according to Avista.

The incident occurred three hours and 45 minutes after the test module started its road trip in Lewiston. The test module, the third heaviest shipment to ever travel U.S. 12, is parked at milepost 61, five miles west of Kamiah now.

The Idaho Transportation Department has suspended its movement until the agency receives a report from Mammoet, the company Imperial Oil hired to haul the oversized load. “The report will focus on what happened … and more importantly the learnings from the move and the measures we will put in place for subsequent moves,” said Pius Rolheiser, a spokesman for Imperial Oil.

The trip was originally scheduled to happen in three parts, with stopping points in Kooskia, milepost 139, 65 miles east of Kooskia, and a private parking lot at Lolo Hot Springs 71/2 miles inside the Montana border.

Another potential problem surfaced for the test shipment on Wednesday. Missoula County and certain environmental groups are seeking a temporary restraining order that would block Imperial Oil’s use of a Montana Department of Transportation permit allowing the test module to enter the state.

MDT had no comment on the development.

The request is part of litigation asking MDT to take a closer look at Imperial Oil’s proposal before moving forward with it.

The test module has the same weight, 490,000 pounds, and dimensions as the largest of more than 100 extra-big loads Imperial Oil wants to send on U.S. 12. The hope is its trip across Idaho will show U.S. 12 is a feasible route for the transports.

One of the reasons the test module is only going 71/2 miles into Montana is new turnouts are needed for megaloads of this size to meet that state’s requirements about pulling over to allow traffic to pass.

The request for the temporary restraining order also seeks to prevent the start of construction of 54 football field-sized turnouts MDT has issued permits for, according to the document filed in the 4th Judicial District Court in Missoula County, Mont.

Those turnouts would be used by Imperial Oil as it ships Korean-made modules for a processing plant in the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. The modules would be barged by water to the Port of Lewiston, where they would be transferred to trucks.

Imperial Oil has yet to receive permission for any of the loads, other than the test module, to make the journey in Idaho. The oversized loads are accompanied by Idaho State Police, pull over every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass and are limited to traveling between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.

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