Megaloads opponents file challenge to recommendation

ITD, ConocoPhillips have 21 days to respond

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Megaload opponents are challenging a hearing officer’s recommendation that supports the Idaho Transportation Department issuing permits to allow four oversized loads to travel on U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, Mont.

“The hearing officer has simply regurgitated the case presented by ITD staff (ConocoPhillips and its contracted hauler) without bothering to address key points and evidence presented by intervenors,” according to the challenge filed Monday.

ConocoPhillips and ITD didn’t comment on the content of the challenge of the recommendation of the hearing officer, who spent two days in December listening to testimony for and against the loads.

ITD Director Brian Ness will examine the challenge before issuing a final decision on the permits, said Adam Rush, a spokesman for ITD in an e-mail.

Rush declined to speculate when the ruling might be made. Previously Rush said Ness was waiting until at least today before he issued his decision on the permits. The window closed today for those wishing to challenge the hearing officer’s recommendation.

ITD and ConocoPhillips have 21 days to respond to the challenge and Rush didn’t say if the megaloads could move while the challenge is pending.

ConocoPhillips acknowledged receiving the challenge late Monday through a spokesman who indicated they were reviewing it.

The opponents worry the oversized loads will harm north central Idaho’s communities as well as the region’s tourism economy. ITD and ConocoPhillips maintain those concerns have been addressed in their plans, which involve the loads traveling at night, pulling off at regular intervals with escorts by off-duty state police officers and Lewiston city paramedics.

In their challenge, opponents allege the following flaws in the hearing officer’s recommendation:

l A lack of acknowledgement the four ConocoPhillips loads could be the first in a new class of oversized trucks using U.S. 12. ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil has proposed sending 207 megaloads from Lewiston on U.S. 12 to a Kearl Oil Sands processing plant in Alberta, Canada.

The opponents contend if it weren’t for the work done by ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil, U.S. 12 wouldn’t be a feasible route for ConocoPhillips.

l Application of incorrect legal standards in deferring to ITD about how long traffic can be delayed by megaloads. The opponents claim traffic can only be delayed by 10 minutes. But ITD has decided it is OK for traffic to be delayed longer in certain instances, partly because the traffic plan will keep travel open as often as feasibly possible. The hearing officer backed that stance in his recommendation.

Significant questions exist about how long the delays will be, according to the challenge.

Evidence “showed that numerous sections of Highway 12 have curves, rock walls, narrow bridges and other features that will be difficult or impossible for (the hauler) to meet its traffic delay projections.”

l An absence of information regarding what the top speeds of the megaloads will be, something the megaload opponents argue is key in figuring out just how long it will take for them to travel from one turnout to another. “Even though (opponents) repeatedly pressed ITD and (the hauler’s) witnesses to identify the actual speeds and travel time the Conoco shipments would use, they steadfastly refused to do so.”

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