Montana governor backs megaloads

By Matt Gouras OF The Associated Press

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

HELENA, Mont. – Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Tuesday that banning the contested oil company megaload shipments from state highways could hurt efforts to attract businesses to the state.

Schweitzer made the comments in a meeting Tuesday with the head of the state trucking association.

Exxon Mobil is seeking permits to haul more than 200 loads of equipment from Lewiston through northwestern Montana to an oil-sands project in Alberta, Canada. The plan is currently mired in a permitting process in Idaho.

Opponents argue the huge loads, which will travel at very slow speeds, present a threat to tourism, public safety and convenience and could harm the pristine rivers along the proposed route.

Schweitzer said Montana can consider finalizing its permits once the company has permission to reach the state borders.

But the governor said he can’t envision the state Department of Transportation rejecting the permits just because some don’t like the idea of helping expand oil production in Canada. Doing so would be arbitrary and send the wrong signal.

The governor said he also supports the expansion of the oil sands in Canada because it is far better than getting oil from the Middle East.

Schweitzer said his office is trying to recruit a company that builds large industrial equipment to Billings. Berry Y & V Industrial Contracting too would need to ship oversize loads on state highways.