Montana issues permit for megaload test run

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune
Saturday, April 09, 2011
The Montana Department of Transportation has issued a permit that would allow an Imperial Oil test module to enter the state.

The decision removes one of the obstacles that has prevented its departure from Lewiston. Now it’s scheduled to leave at 10 p.m. Monday.

The test module has been at the Port of Lewiston waiting out forecasts of snow on Lolo Pass as well as the clearance from Montana that allows it to travel 71/2 miles into that state to a private parking lot at Lolo Hot Springs.

Bad weather could still change the time line, according to MDT and Imperial Oil, which is owned mostly by ExxonMobil. The National Weather Service has predicted a chance of snow for the time when the test module would be at Lolo Pass, late Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning.

Imperial Oil hopes shipping it across north central Idaho will demonstrate that U.S. Highway 12 is a viable route for the loads that are so large they take up both lanes of traffic.

The test module has the same weight and dimensions as the largest of more than 100 megaloads Imperial Oil wants to haul on U.S. 12. It is 24 feet wide, 208 feet long and 30 feet high. It weighs about 490,000 pounds, counting its transport equipment.

It will only be allowed to travel between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., accompanied by Idaho State Police troopers, whose services are paid for by Imperial Oil. It will have to pull over once every 15 minutes to allow vehicles to pass.

Its trip is expected to be divided into three parts with stops in Kooskia early Tuesday morning, about 23 miles west of Powell early Wednesday, and in Montana early Thursday.

Imperial Oil would also like the test load to follow the route the oil company hopes to take through Montana. But that can’t happen until 53 new pullouts are constructed to help it comply with Montana’s rules about allowing traffic to pass at certain intervals.

The test module isn’t slated to go all the way to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, the destination of the other over-sized loads. The megaloads would carry Korean-made components of a processing plant that would be barged to Lewiston.

The test module is the only Imperial Oil megaload ITD is allowing at this time. The agency won’t make a decision on the others until after a contested case hearing on April 25. A hearing officer at that proceeding will make a recommendation based on testimony of ITD, opponents and Imperial Oil.

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