Moscow councilors give green light to megaloads

Council overrides mayor’s opposition; some contend controversy is really all about fighting oil companies

By David Johnson of the Tribune
May 18, 2011
MOSCOW – Megaload opponents hoping to erect an anti-oil company roadblock here might have to look elsewhere. Four city councilors, over the concerns of Mayor Nancy Chaney, have granted initial passage to ExxonMobil.

“If this were a bubble gum truck, I would have the same concerns,” Chaney said Tuesday after the council voted 4-0 with one abstention not to oppose transport through town of an estimated 60 oversized loads of equipment to Canadian oil fields.

“My intent was to cut off what appeared was going to be an endless discussion about the megaloads for weeks and weeks,” said Councilor Walter Steed who made a motion stating the council “does not believe the movement of the proposed megaloads in the city of Moscow will have any inordinate impact on infrastructure or the community.”

Councilors Tim Brown, Wayne Krauss and Dan Carscallen endorsed the motion. Councilor Sue Scott abstained and Councilor Tom Lamar was out of town.

Steed’s surprise motion came as Chaney said she was in the process of drafting a resolution requesting Idaho Transportation Department officials to deny permits for ExxonMobile to move about 60 oversized loads through town five nights per week.

“I’m not bringing a resolution forward,” Chaney said Tuesday afternoon, conceding the council had taken a stand. Nonetheless, Chaney called the action “premature” and said she has written a letter to ITD urging officials to consider additional information, including written and oral comments gathered at a public meeting last week.

“All those materials should be part of their considerations,” Chaney said, adding she thinks ITD is obligated, despite passage of Steed’s motion, to review all information available. One of her biggest concerns, Chaney said, is granting passage of the loads might turn U.S. Highway 95 through Moscow into a preferred equipment route to the Canadian oil fields.

Steed said city staff had reviewed most, if not all of the materials, and had no concerns about the shipments moving through town. If problems develop, Steed said, the council can always revisit the situation and take new action.

“I had a feeling that sometime in the future she (Chaney) would be asking us to stop the megaloads,” Steed said. “The moment I said I was going to make a motion, she said you can’t. And I said I can.” City Supervisor Gary Reidner and City Attorney Randy Fife sided with Steed and the vote was taken.

Transportation issues aside, Steed said the real issue surrounding the loads is one of oil versus other kinds of energy sources. The megaloads, he said, have been challenged for months by people and environmental groups who favor conversion to renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

“If they were hauling windmill blade through town, nobody would complain,” Steed said, echoing the same observation offered by Carscallen at Monday night’s meeting. “I think that’s what its been about all along on both Highway 12 and 95.”

Carscallen reiterated his concerns Tuesday that people are being disingenuous when they raise unsubstantiated transportation concerns when they’re really trying to stop the shipments for environmental reasons.

“I don’t think there’s any question about what it’s really about. A few people have come out and said it,” Carscallen said. “It’s about fighting big oil.” He said the city of Moscow has no business or power to fight big oil or try to usurp ITD’s authority over U.S. Highway 95 through town.

Chaney said she has concerns about the oil industry, but her immediate concerns revolve around potential impacts of the loads moving through town. Officials have said each load, up to 24 feet wide, 208 feet long, more than 15 feet high and weighing up to 378,000 pounds, will move at about 12 mph through town.

“Like I said last night, would there be that big a protest if it were giant solar panels that are coming through, or geothermal modules or windmill parts?” Carscallen said. “I just shake my head because even at 12 mph, they’re going to be through town in probably 15 minutes. If they’re going to do one load a night five days a week, nobody is going to notice it.”

Johnson may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 883-0564.