Megaloads hearing nears conclusion

ISP puts limit on number of officers available as escorts

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune
May 7, 2011
Four Idaho State Police officers accompanied a test module of Imperial Oil on its trip from Lewiston to the Montana border on U.S. Highway 12.

That number of officers represents the maximum that would be available on any given night regardless of how many loads might be on the road, said Capt. Lonnie Richardson, at ISP in Lewiston.

The Idaho Transportation Department will allow as many as two supersized transports on U.S. Highway 12 at once and hasn’t determined how many others could use U.S. Highway 95 at the same time, according to an email from Adam Rush, a spokesman for ITD in Boise.

The issue of the number of officers accompanying the loads was one of many witnesses testified about Friday as a contested case hearing on megaloads in Boise neared its conclusion. It’s expected to end Wednesday after taking a recess Monday and Tuesday.

“Public safety comes before escorting the loads,” said Richardson, who wasn’t a part of the proceeding Friday.

That means the 15 officers assigned to north central Idaho, not counting two unfilled spots, will not be shifted from regular patrols to megaload duty, Richardson said.

And officers accompanying the loads are required to protect citizens first even if it means the loads are delayed, Richardson said.

That happened recently when someone driving under the influence was spotted in the vicinity of a load, Richardson said. “It has enhanced public safety, not detracted from it.”

Officers with the oversized loads are paid by haulers and are on overtime. ISP has specific limits about extra hours designed to avoid officer fatigue.

This summer could see a significant increase in megaload traffic in the region. ITD is waiting for the recommendation of the officer in the contested case hearing before it decides if it will allow Imperial Oil to haul more than 100 loads that take up two lanes of traffic on U.S. 12.

They would carry Korean-made components of a processing plant from the Port of Lewiston to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada.

A total of 15 components recently arrived at the Port of Vancouver, Wash. They would be loaded onto barges and taken up the Snake and Columbia rivers to Lewiston, where they would be transferred to trailers for the road portion of their journey.

At the same time, ITD is considering a proposal for 33 components that are being turned into 60 smaller shipments to use U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 90. The modifications are reducing their height so they can travel underneath Interstate overpasses, but they would still be oversized loads.

In spite of the more than $500,000 of work done on each load so it can use the alternative route, Imperial Oil still prefers U.S. 12 even for the smaller transports, said Kenneth Johnson, Kearl module transportation project manager for Imperial Oil, which is owned mostly by ExxonMobil.

Johnson described the journey of Imperial Oil’s test module as a move that was “very well done” in spite of it knocking a limb off a tree in Lewiston and causing a power outage before it reached its destination.

ITD required the test module as a way to see if U.S. 12 was a feasible road for Imperial Oil’s oversized loads. The transport was almost 250 feet long, 3 stories tall and 24 feet wide, the same dimensions as the largest of Imperial Oil’s extra big shipments.

They’re supposed to pull over every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass, but that limitation can be waived in certain circumstances.

Other significant testimony on Friday included:

l Darren Bland, of Mammoet, Imperial Oil’s contracted hauler, has a number of contingency plans for emergencies including one in which if the road is blocked where it would back up to the nearest usable turnout.

l A Mammoet employee alerted trucking companies when the test module would be on the road, Bland said. “At no point were we asking anyone to change the schedule or anything like that.”

l Johnson didn’t directly answer a question on whether vacant vehicles found in turnouts needed by the transport crew would be towed. “We would have to work it out on a case-by-case basis.”

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