Megaload opponents seek hearing

Petition would create another roadblock for Imperial Oil’s shipments to Alberta

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Saturday, October 23, 2010
The people behind the Idaho Supreme Court case involving four oversized ConocoPhillips loads want Imperial Oil to jump through an additional legal hoop before the state issues permits for it to ship more than 200 loads of a similar size.

Linwood Laughy, Borg Hendrickson and Peter Grubb submitted a petition for a contested case hearing to the Idaho Transportation Department this week.

The deputy attorney general assigned to ITD is reviewing the petition, according to Adam Rush, a spokesman for ITD in Boise who responded to the Tribune’s questions by e-mail. “ITD is awaiting the decision of the Idaho Supreme Court before proceeding further with the Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil proposal.”

In the case before the Idaho Supreme Court, Laughy, Hendrickson and Grubb question if ITD has done enough to protect the safety of the public and maintain the pristine river canyon along U.S. Highway 12. Their litigation raises a number of issues such as if the loads, which would consume two lanes, should have to pull over every 10 minutes as they travel instead of the 15 minutes ITD required.

The ConocoPhillips loads, which are heading to a Billings, Mont., refinery, have been stranded at the Port of Lewiston since mid-August when the litigation was initiated and have not been able to take U.S. Highway 12 to the Montana border.

The first eight of Imperial Oil’s shipments arrived at the Port of Lewiston last week. Imperial Oil hopes to send more than 200 modules on U.S. Highway 12 to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. No permits have been issued for them.

The Korean-made modules will be assembled into a plant that makes bitumen, a heavy oil that’s being removed from the ground in an open pit mine, light enough to be transported by pipelines to refineries. The refineries will turn the oil into products like gasoline and diesel fuel.

The reason Laughy, Hendrickson and Grubb want a contested case hearing on the Imperial Oil cargo is that it would provide a forum where opponents of the shipments could present testimony from experts that ITD could use as it deliberates about issuing the Imperial Oil permits, said Natalie Havlina, an attorney of Advocates for the West in Boise, which is representing the three.

Laughy and Hendrickson are a married couple who reside along U.S. Highway 12. Grubb runs a resort with a restaurant and overnight accommodations that offers rafting trips on the Lochsa River, which parallels the road.

An Advocates for the West review of ITD’s decision about issuing permits for ConocoPhillips found ITD was accepting of the information that ConocoPhillips presented, Havlina said.

“ITD should not have the authority to unilaterally alter this designated Northwest Passage Scenic Byway & Scenic River Corridor,” Laughy said in a prepared statement issued Friday. “Idahoans and all Americans deserve the facts in this matter and a contested case hearing will put those facts in plain public view.”

ITD conducted three open house meetings in the summer about the ConocoPhillips and Imperial Oil shipments, but they were not as formal as a contested hearing would be, Havlina said.

A hearing officer, not necessarily an attorney, contracted by ITD or an ITD employee would take testimony, that unlike the comments at the open houses, would be made part of an official record, Havlina said.

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