Megaload crews await green light

Permits haven’t been reissued, but activity at port is to ensure readiness, ConocoPhillips spokesman says

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Activity buzzed around two of four ConocoPhillips loads Monday, raising questions as to whether the Idaho Transportation Department was readying permits for the megaloads sitting at the Port of Lewiston.

Crews could be seen working on top of large transport assemblies attached to semi-tractors in the port’s main container yard.

Jeff Stratten, a spokesman for ITD, said Monday his agency hadn’t taken any action on the permits.

“Although the existing permits have not been reissued, it is only prudent to ask our contractor to be ready,” said John Roper, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips in Houston.

“The activity at the Port of Lewiston is to ensure that they are ready, that we have the adequate lead time to activate our very detailed and thoughtful transportation plan,” Roper said. “Obviously, we can’t and won’t act until the existing permits are reissued from the state of Idaho.”

Last week the Idaho Supreme Court issued an opinion that reversed a decision of a lower court in August that revoked the ITD permits for the two drums bound for a Billings, Mont., refinery.

Even as it appears ConocoPhillips is preparing to act on the Idaho Supreme Court ruling, Borg Hendrickson vowed to continue the legal fight to prevent the ConocoPhillips loads from traveling.

“If it becomes obvious ITD is turning down our request to be an intervenor in a contested case, and they appear to be ready to issue a permit, then we would go to court with a writ of mandate,” said Hendrickson, one of those who filed the lawsuit that went to the Idaho Supreme Court.

“That would be an attempt to force ITD to hold a contested case hearing,” said Hendrickson, who lives next to U.S. Highway 12, the route the ConocoPhillips drums would use. “By forcing a contested case hearing, the courts would prevent these loads from leaving temporarily until the hearing had been held.”

The ITD permits aren’t the only paperwork the ConocoPhillips cargo needs for the trip. The Montana Department of Transportation didn’t return messages the Tribune left Monday inquiring about the status of the permits for the ConocoPhillips loads in that state.

MDT hasn’t yet given permission in part because it’s waiting for Idaho to issue its permits, according to an article in the Missoulian newspaper based in Missoula, Mont., on Monday.

One determination MDT needs to make is if the cargo can be at its border legally, according to the Montana newspaper.

MDT is also waiting for information from ConocoPhillips such as emergency procedures that deal with the effects to motorists if unforseen events take place, and what compensation Montana would receive if roads were damaged, according to the Missoulian.

The ConocoPhillips cargo, which was barged to Lewiston from Japan, would consume two lanes of traffic as it travels across Idaho to the Montana border in a journey expected to take four days.

ITD has promised it will put a number of conditions on the permits such as requiring the loads travel only at night, pull over every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass and be escorted by off-duty Idaho State Police troopers paid for by the oil company.

The ConocoPhillips loads will be the heaviest to ever travel U.S. 12, a narrow, curvy road in a canyon that parallels federally designated wild and scenic rivers.

Imperial Oil has requested permission from ITD to use the same route for more than 200 loads of a similar size in the next year. Sixteen shipments of the Korean-made equipment have already been barged to the Port of Lewiston, where they’re waiting for an ITD decision on permits.

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