Montana green-lights loads despite problems

Second megaload still stranded at Kooskia; opponent says weather not only problem

By Stephen Dockery of the Associated Press
March 1, 2011
HELENA, Mont. – Oversized loads of Billings, Mont.-bound refinery equipment have the green light to slowly wend through Montana despite delays and initial problems in transporting the megaloads through Idaho, Montana’s transportation director said Monday.

Jim Lynch said there are no anticipated changes in the travel plans for the Montana portion of the route to ConocoPhillips’ Billings refinery.

“We’ve had meetings with Conoco, and we don’t anticipate any changes in what they said they can do to get the shipments to Billings,” Lynch said.

Two of four loads of oversized equipment are en route from the Port of Lewiston to Montana along U.S. Highway 12. Each load carries a three-story part of 300-ton coke drum.

Weather has stalled one of the megaloads near Kooskia for about a week. The first load is parked near the Montana border awaiting the second so the loads can travel through the state together.

The shipments have stirred up opponents who say the large freight has a negative environmental impact on the scenic highway and the loads create long traffic delays.

Zack Porter, spokesman for All Against the Haul, an organization opposed to the oversized loads, said there have been serious problems that have been ignored, like extended traffic delays and loads scraping rock walls.

Porter also claimed that the load in Kooskia hasn’t been delayed by weather but by other mechanical problems.

“The snow has not been flying in the last few days,” he said. “It’s clear there are other issues unrelated to the weather that are holding these loads back at this point,” Porter said.

The truckloads require a permit to travel through a state because they take up both lanes of the highway. The trucks travel at night to minimize traffic congestion.

ConocoPhillips revised its oversized loads travel plans across northern Idaho after the first shipment caused long traffic delays. The truckloads exceeded the allowable traffic delays of 15 minutes, with one delay at a sharp turn lasting 59 minutes.

ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil also wants to transport more than 100 megaloads through Idaho and Montana to reach an oil sands project in Alberta, Canada. A test shipment of equipment is scheduled to leave from Idaho on March 7.

The company has not yet requested a test shipment permit for passage into Montana and some of the travel preparations for the shipments like paved turnouts are not complete.

Opponents say the high volume of large loads would turn the proposed northern passage through Montana into an ugly construction corridor. Supporters of the truckloads say they are good for business and the environmental impact has been taken into account and is minimal.

After Imperial Oil faced lengthy permit and legal challenges from people opposed to the big freight, the company now plans to downsize some of the loads headed to Canada to fit on highways and alternate routes.