Megaloads meeting in Moscow to focus on transport

Coming forum won’t be a debate on fossil fuels, mayor says

By David Johnson of the Tribune
April 19, 2011

MOSCOW – A pending public discussion here about oil company megaloads will focus on potential transportation issues through town, but will not be a forum for debate about fossil fuels, Mayor Nancy Chaney said Monday night.

“I just think we’re not going to solve the idealogical argument that night,” Chaney said. “I’ve had some zinger emails from people who say, ‘Oh, just let them come through …,’ or ‘hey, I want affordable fuel.’ And other people say this is the dirtiest and most environmentally destructive mode of extracting fuel from the ground.”

Details of the forum, tentatively scheduled for May 11, could be available today through a joint news release, Chaney said. She said the city of Moscow, the Idaho Department of Transportation, ExxonMobil Corp. and Imperial Oil have been in discussions and are expected to be represented at what she called the public input session.

“I think people justifiably have very strong feelings that have to do with the mode of extracting oil, or the value of the fuel source relative to the cost to fill their tanks,” Chaney said of public concerns. “But we’re going to be talking about what would it mean to haul loads that may be 15 feet high and 24 feet wide and 207 feet long up Washington Street.”

Imperial Oil is currently moving a test module along U.S. Highway 12 toward the Montana-Idaho border en route to a processing plant in the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. Debate over using that route has been waging for months. Only recently, Chaney said, officials here heard through the “grapevine” some loads of equipment could be coming through Moscow to eventually link up with Interstate 90 in northern Idaho.

“Right now, in the case of coming through Moscow, we have limited information, so we don’t take a position when we don’t know what the issues are,” Chaney said.

Councilor Wayne Krauss agreed. “The bottom line is, nobody knows what it’s all about. To me, the only way to really know is to let one come through and lets see what it looks like.”

Regardless of what people in Moscow might think, or action the council might take, Krauss said the issue is really one for IDT to decide. “We can’t stop them even if we wanted to,” he said, adding information so far indicates the loads will be half the size of the ones that have moved along U.S. 12.

Chaney said she doubts whether the council would weigh in on the idealogical debate about continued fossil fuel extraction. But she understands the concerns of some local residents who suggest the city has an opportunity to make a statement, if not take a stand.

“I probably, as citizen Chaney, would give my two cents worth privately. We can all do that,” Chaney said. “But for the purpose of this hearing, it’s going to be about what would it mean to haul these loads through town? What are the unanswered questions?”

The loads, so far, are expected to move at about 12 mph, Chaney said, in the middle of the night. She said traffic will be limited at that time, but there could still be some safety concerns. It’s also unclear, she said, how many loads are expected and if the empty hauling equipment will be coming back through town.

While the meeting discussion will be limited to transportation issues, Chaney said citizens will be allowed to submit any written comments they have, including statements about oil industry issues.

Johnson may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 883-0564.