Megaloads get green light

First of two ITD permits for transport on U.S. 12 from Port of Lewiston is expected to be used Feb. 1

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Two of ConocoPhillips’ four megaloads received the green light Tuesday from the Idaho Transportation Department to start their journey to a Billings, Mont., refinery.

Two permits are being issued for $4,000 each. The first one is anticipated to be used on Feb. 1, after a final decision on the matter by ITD’s director Brian Ness, said Adam Rush, a spokesman for ITD. The permits can be extended if weather prevents the transport.

Megaload opponents are still considering what their next move is, according to a statement issued Tuesday. “We are saddened by the fact that the thousands of Idahoans who oppose the megaloads are having to work so hard to have one of their own state agencies hear them.”

The record convinced Ness the loads can be moved safely, without damage to the roads and bridges and with minimal disruption to traffic and emergency services, according to a statement ITD issued Tuesday. “Every argument has been heard and considered. We can no longer delay this process.”

Ness cited four factors for his decision:

l The administrative process was properly followed.

l All sides received a fair opportunity to present their case.

l An independent hearing officer recommended the permits be issued.

l The opposition failed to present compelling reasons to overturn the hearing officer’s recommendation.

After ConocoPhillip’s first megaload leaves the Port of Lewiston, the earliest the second one would be allowed on the road is 24 hours later, Rush said.

ConocoPhillips will only have one megaload on U.S. Highway 12 between Lewiston and the Montana border at any given time, said John Roper, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips.

Enough trailers and trucks are positioned in Lewiston now to move the first two ConocoPhillips megaloads, but the same equipment will be needed for the second two loads, Rush said.

ConocoPhillips anticipates it will take four days to go from Lewiston to the Montana border on U.S. 12 and the entire trip to the refinery will last about three weeks, Roper said.

The status of the permits for the megaloads in Montana wasn’t clear. Messages left by the Tribune for the Montana transportation department weren’t immediately returned. Roper said he expected the Montana permits to be issued “soon.”

Each of the ConocoPhillips megaloads will contain half of a Japanese-manufactured drum that will be used in the rehabilitation of the refinery in the spring. The loads, which will be the heaviest ever to move on U.S. 12 through Idaho, will take up both lanes of traffic as they travel. They won’t delay oncoming vehicles more than 10 minutes except at certain points specified in a traffic plan. They can only be on the road between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.

They will be accompanied by a Lewiston ambulance staffed with at least one paramedic, and off-duty Idaho State Police troopers paid for by the oil company. The transporter of the loads, Emmert, has never lost a load in its 50-year history, according to the hearing officer’s recommendation.

Supporters and opponents of the megaloads didn’t appear surprised by the decision. “From what little bit I know about the permitting system … for the most part they tend to follow the rules of the law and I felt like this was done in this case,” said Jerry Klemm, president of the Lewiston Port Commission.

The Port of Lewiston is where the megaloads have been barged so far. The port is paid to receive and store the loads.

“This is far from over,” said Brett Haverstick, a spokesman of Friends of the Clearwater in Moscow. “The public is not going to rest. ITD needs to come to grips with the fact it works for the citizens of Idaho and not international corporations.”

Ness’ move follows a legal battle started in August, when megaload opponents filed litigation.

The case went to the Idaho Supreme Court, which ruled it had no jurisdiction, opening the door for the process ITD followed.

ITD appointed a hearing officer who heard testimony from the opponents, ConocoPhillips and ITD, before issuing a recommendation supporting ITD’s stance in favor of allowing the megaloads to travel.

Opponents challenged that recommendation. The controversy has put Idaho in the national spotlight because it’s possible the ConocoPhillips megaloads will be the first of many to use U.S. 12.

ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil has plans to send 207 Korean-made components of a processing plant to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, on U.S. 12. Opponents worry about the safety of motorists as well as the loss of recreational opportunities along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers that parallel the road.

A total of 34 of ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil megaloads are at the Port of Lewiston, even though ITD has indicated it won’t consider them until the ConocoPhillips matter is resolved.

“I will not comment further on this case because litigation is possible and the similarities because of the pending request from Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil to transport oversized loads on U.S. 12,” Ness said in the statement ITD issued Tuesday.

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