Megaload test run is grounded for now

Imperial Oil module is parked west of Kamiah after causing power outage

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The movement of an Imperial Oil test module has been suspended following a power outage early Tuesday morning that left about 1,300 homes and businesses in north central Idaho without electricity for about five hours.

The Idaho Transportation Department is waiting on a report from Mammoet, the company hauling the shipment for Imperial Oil, before it makes decisions about what happens next, said Adam Rush, a spokesman for ITD in Boise.

The megaload, taking up two lanes of traffic, hit an Avista support wire, according to ITD. A pole holding the wire broke and the wire, which carries no electricity, was flung over a high-voltage power line that shorted, according to ITD.

The outage started at about 1:45 a.m., following the incident on U.S. Highway 12, three miles east of Orofino, said Debbie Simock, a spokeswoman for Avista in Spokane.

No one was hurt, said Pius Rolheiser, a spokesman for Imperial Oil, which is owned mostly by ExxonMobil. “Imperial Oil sincerely regrets any inconvenience to the public.”

Traffic was delayed one hour instead of the 15 minutes ITD is allowing, Rush said.

The transport also struck and broke a tree branch near the Lewiston rose garden that was about 10 inches in diameter and 20 feet long, according to ITD.

The third-heaviest shipment ever to move on U.S. 12 is now parked at milepost 61, five miles west of Kamiah. The pullout is 13 miles short of Kooskia, where it was supposed to arrive by 5:30 a.m., Rush said.

Imperial Oil is hoping moving the 490,000-pound test module, which is almost 250 feet long and three stories tall, will demonstrate U.S. 12 can safely handle such cargo.

The test module has the same weight and dimensions as the largest of the more than 100 oversized loads Imperial Oil wants to send on U.S. 12. The others would carry Korean-made pieces of a processing plant for the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. ITD is requiring the test module before it grants permission for any others to move.

The challenges in the first part of what was scheduled to be a three-night trip to just inside the Montana border surfaced as at least two groups were touting the economic benefits of megaloads.

A crew of 250 workers, mostly from out of state, are employed at the Port of Lewiston container yard working in two shifts, said David Doeringsfeld, manager of the port.

They’re staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, renting apartments, joining athletic clubs, and in at least one instance participating in a fun run, Doeringsfeld said during a port commission meeting.

They’re converting 33 Imperial Oil shipments into 60, shortening them so they can travel on the interstate highway. Imperial Oil has requested permission from ITD for them to use U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 90 instead of U.S. 12. The oil company contends delays caused by the opposition prompted them to make the changes, which cost more than $500,000 per module.

Additional setbacks, however, might hurt Lewiston, putting millions of dollars at risk and creating a perception special interest groups can postpone oversized shipments, said Doug Mattoon, executive director of Valley Vision. “It is critical that we preserve our freight corridors now and in the future for our economic vitality.”

The statement appeared in a news release issued Tuesday by Drive Our Economy, a group that supports the loads, praising Imperial Oil for transporting the test module.

The company spent $1.2 million just to construct it, Rolheiser said.

“It really underscores how committed Imperial and the other companies involved are to making sure the shipments have a minimal impact on the community,” said Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. “If the test module can travel safely, so can the oversized loads.”

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