Megaloads hearing gets under way

Proceedings in Boise expected to take at least four days; hearing officer will present opinion to ITD

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune
April 26, 2011
A proceeding that will help decide if Imperial Oil can move more than 100 megaloads through Idaho on U.S. Highway 12 started Monday in Boise.

Two entrepreneurs and two Idaho Transportation Department employees addressed a variety of issues, such as what risks the oversized shipments might pose for those living along the road and how difficult it is to reduce the size of the cargo.

Testimony from Monday’s witnesses as well as more who will appear during what’s predicted to be a 41/2-day or longer proceeding will be used by retired State District Court Judge Duff McKee, the hearing officer. McKee will prepare an opinion ITD will review before issuing permits for any future Imperial Oil shipments on U.S. 12.

The testimony comes during what may turn out to be the busiest week on U.S. 12 to date for oversized loads, which take up two lanes of traffic.

Imperial Oil’s test module could leave as early as 10 p.m. tonight on a trip from Lewiston to 71/2 miles inside the Montana border.

It’s been stranded five miles west of Kamiah since April 12 after it hit a support line and triggered a power outage. A utility and the oil company are double-checking arrangements to get the three-story transport underneath power lines safely.

ITD required a test shipment in the same weight and dimensions as the largest of Imperial Oil’s proposed loads to assess the feasibility of moving them on U.S. 12.

Saturday is when the third of four Japanese-made drum halves for a ConocoPhillips refinery is set to start its road journey from Lewiston to Billings, Mont. Two others arrived at the refinery earlier this month.

The first ConocoPhillips drum half passed Reflections Inn as its owner, Ruth May, watched. It raised questions for her about how she would navigate the road on nights when the loads are moving, said May, who testified.

The shipment only took about two or three minutes to pass, but it was about an hour between the first and last vehicle in the convoy that includes Idaho State Police officers, flaggers and support personnel from the hauler, May said.

The only private vehicles that went through in that time were escorted by the crew with the load, leading her to wonder, if she needed to leave, which direction would be the right way to go, May said. “If I had gotten into that traffic, what would have happened? It blocks the entire section of the highway. There’s no way to get around.”

The two most severe emergencies she’s experienced at the inn were instances where minutes were significant, May said.

Once a young woman who was a guest suffered a stroke. Another time her husband suffered a pancreatic attack in which a duct was blocked and his doctor met them at a clinic in Kamiah. May was told to drive him there as quickly as she could without sacrificing safety, May said. “This was a very delicate situation. (His) life was at risk.”

Reacting to medical emergencies isn’t the only challenge those with businesses on U.S. 12 face because of oversized loads, according to another opponent.

ITD’s plans for the huge trucks allow them to be in turnouts for 24 hours at a time, said Peter Grubb, owner of a resort that’s a hub for white-water rafting trips next to U.S. 12.

His U.S. Forest Service permits give him permission to use some of those turnouts for his business to launch rafts, Grubb said.

Use of the turnouts also improves safety for his customers because he can position vehicles along the river during trips to evacuate them from the river if they get hurt, Grubb said.

The safety and convenience of U.S. 12 users were primary considerations of ITD’s employees as they evaluated Imperial Oil’s request, said Reymundo Rodriguez, commercial vehicle services manager for ITD.

Part of their evaluation involved how difficult it is to reduce the size of the more than 100 Korean-manufactured modules, Rodriguez said.

It’s costing Imperial Oil more than $500,000 plus 2,000 to 4,000 hours in labor per unit to turn 33 modules previously shipped to the Port of Lewiston into smaller shipments, Rodriguez said.

The federal standard defines loads as nondivisible if it takes eight hours or more to break them apart, Rodriguez said.

Imperial Oil wanted to send the 33 modules on U.S. 12 as part of a total of more than 200 megaloads. But because of delays in getting permits on U.S. 12, it’s now seeking permission to use U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 90 for 33 loads it’s converting to 60 shipments short enough to go underneath Interstate overpasses.

Another 60 shipments slated to go through Lewiston are taken on the interstate from Vancouver where they’re unloaded from ocean barges, leaving about 110 to haul on U.S. 12.

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