Megaloads foes mulling whether to continue fight

Associated Press

Saturday, January 1, 2011

MISSOULA, Mont. – Foes of a plan to allow ConocoPhillips to ship oversized oil-refinery equipment from Idaho to Montana are expected to decide by next week whether to further press their opposition.

A hearing officer recommended Tuesday that the Idaho Transportation Department issue the permits to allow the shipments. Opponents of the plan have until Jan. 11 to challenge that recommendation.

Linwood Laughy, one of the biggest critics of the plan to ship the four giant loads of refinery equipment along U.S. Highway 12, said opponents will decide by next week whether to file a petition for reconsideration of the hearing officer’s recommendation to allow the loads to move forward.

“In some respects it would be nice to get the four loads off the table so we could talk about the real issues,” said Laughy, who lives along the federal scenic byway in Kooskia.

Foes of the shipments argue the huge loads, which will travel at very slow speeds along a route near where explorers Lewis and Clark traveled in the early 19th century, present a threat to tourism, public safety and convenience, and could harm the pristine rivers along the proposed route.

But the hearing officer, Boise attorney Merlyn Clark, said evidence shows the four loads can be transported safely and with minimum inconvenience to the general public along north central Idaho’s U.S. Highway 12, which parallels the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers.

Opponents like Laughy point out that the recommendation doesn’t cover separate plans of Imperial Oil, a unit of Exxon Mobil Corp., to truck more than 200 loads of oil equipment from Lewiston to the tar sands of northern Alberta, Canada, along U.S. 12. Other companies are planning additional shipments of equipment to Canada, too, as exploitation of the oil-rich tar sands accelerates.

Idaho Transportation Department director Brian Ness has taken Clark’s recommendation under advisement. There is no schedule for when Ness will make a decision on whether to allow the loads to move forward.