More megaloads arrive in Lewiston

Modules bring total to 38 waiting at port

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One dozen more Korean-manufactured modules that will be building blocks for a processing plant in the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, were unloaded Tuesday at the Port of Lewiston.

The arrival of the ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil modules brings the total number of megaloads at the port to 38, counting four that belong to ConocoPhillips.

No more are expected before the barge traffic between Lewiston and Portland closes on Dec. 10 until the middle of March for lock rehabilitation at three of the eight dams on the lower Columbia and Snake rivers.

Neither oil company has permits from the Idaho Transportation Department that would allow the megaloads to travel across Idaho on U.S. Highway 12, taking up both lanes of the highway, but ConocoPhillips is farther along in the process.

ConocoPhillips wants to haul two Japanese-made drums that have been cut in half to travel to Billings, Mont., where its refinery is scheduled to be refurbished at an undisclosed date in the spring.

A hearing officer will preside at a proceeding on Dec. 8 and 9 in Boise, where he will hear testimony from ConocoPhillips, ITD and three opponents of the megaloads, Linwood Laughy, Karen Hendrickson, and Peter Grubb. The officer will provide a recommendation to ITD about whether it should issue the permits, and its director will make the agency’s final decision.

ITD has yet to decide if it will grant the opponents a similar proceeding on the 207 megaloads that ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil wants to take over U.S. 12 in the coming year.

Opponents of the megaloads are worried about the safety of the traveling public and preservation of the pristine river corridor that U.S. 12 runs through.

Among the steps ConocoPhillips took to answer the concerns about the megaloads was to hire a city of Lewiston ambulance to accompany the megaloads at no expense to taxpayers through a third-party contractor.

The ambulance will be staffed with at least one city of Lewiston paramedic and another city of Lewiston emergency responder that could be a paramedic, advanced emergency medical technician or emergency medical technician, said Gordy Gregg, Lewiston’s fire chief.

The use of a city ambulance and staff won’t affect the safety of the people the city of Lewiston serves, Gregg said. “I’m not concerned at all. We believe we have the appropriate number of ambulances available for response.”

The city has eight ambulances counting one stationed in the Clarkston Heights, and Gregg said he couldn’t recall a time when all of them had been out at once.

The times the ambulances won’t be available are similar to those involved in transporting patients to Spokane, something that happens routinely, Gregg said. Occasionally ambulances have gone as far as Seattle and Pocatello, Gregg said.

The 45 emergency personnel eligible for the megaload detail would be people who are in the midst of multiple days off, Gregg said. Typically they work five 24-hour shifts with 24 hours off in between, then have five days off.

The crews staffing the ambulances for the ConocoPhillips megaloads would have at least 14 hours off before accompanying the megaloads, and at least 24 hours off before they did a city of Lewiston shift, Gregg said.

The city of Lewiston expects to receive $8,000 from Emmert International to cover the $90 per hour it charges for the ambulance and the overtime it will pay those staffing the ambulance, Gregg said. Emmert is the contractor ConocoPhillips has hired to move its megaloads.

One of the few details that hasn’t been decided is whether patients or Emmert would pay for any care the emergency personnel provides, Gregg said.

ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil hasn’t inquired about the use of the ambulance or emergency personnel, Gregg said.

Megaloads of both companies would travel only at night, escorted by off-duty Idaho State Police troopers at no expense to taxpayers, and pull off regularly to allow traffic to pass. ITD has promised it won’t allow megaloads to roll if road or weather conditions are unsafe.

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