Megaload travels through snowstorm

Opponents say erratic weather developed into serious conditions for second ConocoPhillips load headed to Montana

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune
March 5, 2011

The second ConocoPhillips megaload traveled Friday through what opponents of the oversized shipment are describing as a snowstorm before pulling over about nine miles short of the evening’s goal.

The load left a turnout 65 miles east of Kooskia at 10 p.m. Thursday, and should have gone east to mile marker 169, five miles west of the Montana border.

The weather was erratic on U.S. Highway 12 on Thursday evening, initially alternating between clear, starry skies and snow east of Kooskia, said Brett Haverstick, a spokesman for Friends of the Clearwater who was observing the megaload.

Then at midnight it turned into a snowstorm, creating the most serious weather conditions observed yet by Friends of the Clearwater, said Haverstick, whose group opposes the oversized loads. “It wasn’t a safe night for anyone to be on the highway.”

The Idaho Transportation Department based its decision to go on a forecast that called for less than 1 inch of snow, according to an e-mail from Adam Rush, a spokesman for the agency in Boise.

The weather was clear when the trip began, Rush wrote. “It started snowing lightly approximately 90 minutes later. When the snowfall became heavy, a decision was made to pull over for the night. Throughout the trip, the load moved safely and without incident.”

Three snowplows, two equipped with deicers, accompanied the shipment and were paid for by ConocoPhillips or Emmert International – the oil company’s contracted hauler, according to ITD.

The megaload, carrying half a drum bound for a Billings, Mont., refinery, was going between 3 and 7 mph as it navigated through 1 to 2 inches of packed snow, Haverstick said.

ConocoPhillips has previously indicated the road needed to be clear between the fog lines for the oversized load to move.

After watching the load, Haverstick said he headed west to go home and found 2 to 6 inches of snow on an unplowed highway.

The shipment was expected to resume travel Friday and reach another megaload of ConocoPhillips parked in Montana early this morning to complete a two week journey, more than twice as long as expected.

The chance of snow Friday was 70 percent and temperatures were expected to be in the mid-20s, according to the National Weather Service.

The two drum halves will convoy together to Billings in a journey anticipated to take about two weeks. Two other drum halves are still waiting at the Port of Lewiston and will move at a date not yet determined. The drums were made in Japan and shipped by water to Idaho.

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