Megaloads draw attention far and wide

Poll finds opponents to oversize shipments on the U.S. 12 Wild and Scenic River Corridor aren’t just from the area

By William L. Spence of the Tribune

Wednesday, October 27, 2010
New poll results indicate the megaload proposal on U.S. Highway 12 isn’t just a topic of local interest.

Using U.S. 12 as a transportation corridor for massive equipment loads destined for Montana and Alberta, Canada, is a subject that’s garnered media attention across Canada and the United States.

Stories have run in the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Times, but until now it wasn’t clear whether Idahoans outside this region were even aware of the proposal, much less what their opinions were.

A new Mason-Dixon poll of 625 registered voters conducted for the Lewiston Tribune and six other Idaho newspapers found that opposition to the loads extended across northern Idaho and the Treasure Valley. Even in southeastern Idaho, more than a quarter of the respondents said the loads shouldn’t be permitted (see poll results).

ConocoPhillips wants to ship four loads and Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil wants to ship more than 200 loads of equipment from the Port of Lewiston east along U.S. 12, taking up two lanes of traffic. Some would be more than 200 feet long and weigh up to 580,000 pounds. Each load would take three days to reach Lolo Pass. They would have police escorts and travel only at night, pulling into turnouts during the day. The maximum allowed traffic delay would be 15 minutes.

Justinian Morton, who does historical restoration work in Boise and participated in the poll, said these huge shipments do more damage to Idaho’s highways and bridges than is generally recognized. The companies come here and then they’re gone, he said, leaving taxpayers stuck with paying the bill.

“I feel there are other ways they could do these shipments,” Morton said. “These companies are just taking advantage of the state’s blindly pro-business political structure. We let them do what other states won’t.”

Opponents worry the shipments will turn a Wild and Scenic River Corridor into a major industrial route for massive shipments headed to the oil sands region of Alberta, but the Port of Lewiston says the loads mean more jobs.

Rance Bare, a retired civil engineer from Idaho Falls who took part in the poll, said oversized loads are transported across Idaho highways every day without much problem.

“This is an economic issue,” he said. “We need to support the growth of the economy in our region. The state has regulations in place, permits and fines if these companies mess up. I don’t see this as Pandora’s box springing open.”

Bare said he’d seen about a half-dozen reports about the megaloads in his local paper. He was aware they’d be traveling at night, with escort cars. Other poll respondents weren’t quite as informed.

Nancy Slatosky of Island Park, for example, had never heard of the mega-load proposal. She mistakenly thought the question was about oversized shipments on U.S. Highway 20 between West Yellowstone and Idaho Falls, which she opposed because it’s a wildlife corridor.

“That sounds awful,” she said, when told about the U.S. 12 project. “I’m sorry I don’t live there so I can protest it.”

John Kontos of Rupert said he didn’t even know where U.S. 12 was located. He gave a “not sure” response to the poll, but said Minidoka County had problems with large sugar beet trucks rumbling through town.

“I’d probably vote against it,” he said, when told the details. “There has to be some other way to get to the destination.”

Several people said they hadn’t heard much about the megaloads, but supported using the highway for commerce and job creation. Joan Burrow of Bonners Ferry, for example, said truckers have enough trouble making a living as it is.

“This isn’t the first (oversized load) proposal to come along,” she said. “The roads are too few and far between to go around, and it costs a fortune. People don’t think about how inconvenient that is.”

Samn Requa of Jerome didn’t know any details about the megaloads, but said her dad drove trucks and she grew up in an agricultural area where trucking was part of everyday life.

“We do have to get around,” she said. “And the economy is really bad. We ought to be happy with whatever jobs we can get.”

After the Idaho Transportation Department issued permits for the four ConocoPhillips loads, opponents sued to halt the shipments. District Court Judge John Bradbury revoked the permits because safety concerns hadn’t been adequately addressed and because ITD rules require a maximum 10-minute traffic delay.

The Idaho Supreme Court is reviewing that decision. Meanwhile, more loads arrive at the port every week, waiting for permits.

Spence may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2274.

How the poll was done:
Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., interviewed 625 randomly chosen registered Idaho voters Wednesday through Friday (Oct. 20-22), limiting the interviews to people who said they are likely to vote in November. The statewide poll�s margin of error is 4 percentage points, with a 95 percent probability that results would fall within that margin if the entire population were sampled.
The Lewiston Tribune�s partners:
Idaho Statesman, Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Post Register in Idaho Falls, Spokesman-Review in Spokane (circulates and provides coverage in northern Idaho), and Times-News in Twin Falls