By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune | Tuesday, June 28, 2011 12:00am
More than 100 ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil megaloads should be allowed to use U.S. Highway 12, according to a recommendation from an Idaho Transportation Department proceeding.
“Based on the findings of fact and analysis … I conclude that none of the complaints or issues raised by the protesting parties are sustained,” wrote Duff McKee, a retired judge.
McKee listened to opponents as well as representatives of the oil company, its hired hauler and ITD in a contested case hearing that stretched for more than two weeks in April and May.
Imperial Oil was “pleased” with the recommendation, but is still reviewing it, said Pius Rolheiser, a spokesman for Imperial Oil, in Calgary, Alberta.
That Imperial Oil hasn’t gotten any of its loads to their destination at the Kearl Oil Sands more than a year after its plans were announced “suggests we have a somewhat functioning democracy,” said Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director with Friends of the Clearwater in Moscow.
McKee’s recommendation is just one part of a multifaceted effort to block oversized loads, said Macfarlane, whose group was involved in the contested case hearing.
Idaho Rivers United is still pursuing a federal lawsuit and the Missoula County commissioners and three environmental groups also have litigation pending in Montana, Macfarlane said.
The parties in the ITD matter have 14 days to ask McKee to reconsider, and he has about 21 days to rule on any objections raised about the recommendation, which could then be appealed to Brian Ness, ITD’s director. Ness would then have 56 days to reach a decision.
Whether McKee’s recommendation will be challenged is not clear. An attempt Monday to reach Advocates for the West, the group that’s provided legal counsel to the opponents, was unsuccessful.
ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil is hoping to haul pieces of a processing plant from the Port of Lewiston to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. The segments would be shipped to the Port of Lewiston from their Korean manufacturer.
Another unknown is how many megaloads Imperial Oil wants to send on U.S. Highway 12. Previously Imperial Oil had put the number at 114, down from 207.
The 114 was the number left after 60 of the loads went from the Port of Vancouver by Interstate to the Kearl Oil Sands and 33 were converted to 60 shorter shipments that could travel on U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 90. The 33 arrived at the Port of Lewiston in the fall.
The oil company wants to keep U.S. 12 open as an option for the reduced loads, Rolheiser said. The company sent 45 shipments from the Port of Vancouver without going through Lewiston, but Rolheiser said he didn’t know how many more would go that way.
“Given the delays we’ve already experienced, we’re looking at all options,” said Rolheiser, adding the “current plan” is for all of them to go through the Port of Vancouver.
Imperial Oil wanted to send its first oversized load on U.S. 12 in November and have all of them to the oil sands in about one year.
Legal maneuvering by opponents has prevented all but one – a test module with the same weight and dimensions as the largest proposed load – from going yet.
McKee found the objections opponents raised are without merit. Among them were concerns about the loads blocking those heading to the hospital, the safety of motorists driving on the highway with megaloads, potential damage to the road and an incident where the test module caused a power outage.
The argument of the opponents is a “classic variation of NIMBY – Not in My Backyard!” McKee wrote.
“… The problem here is that everyone thinks that their piece of home is heaven and everyone wants to keep their backyard clear of intruders,” he wrote.
Imperial Oil is taking steps to make sure those with medical emergencies are treated in a timely manner, McKee wrote.
It has an ambulance accompanying the loads and has identified 675 emergency turnouts where the oversized shipment can pull off on the 174-mile route, McKee wrote.
Sending the megaload with Idaho State Police and traffic control crews at maximum speeds of less than 35 mph are among the precautions ITD is requiring for safety, McKee wrote. “There was no testimony of any real danger, no testimony of any accident or damage, and no testimony of any harm to any of the witnesses.”
Because of the way the weight of the more than 500,000-pound load is distributed the load’s impact will be no greater than a “normally loaded commercial truck,” McKee wrote.
An incident similar to the one the test module clipped an Avista support wire causing a power outage could have happened with a car or in bad weather, McKee wrote.
“If anything, it provides evidence of how the traffic plan works in the event of an unexpected occurrence,” McKee wrote. “…The highway was returned to normal operations in a relatively short time. …With the exception of this event, it appears the entire (test module) trip was otherwise without incident.”
Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.