Neither NIMBY nor state law will block massive shipments

Proposal to move gigantic truck loads over scenic route is allowed, if conditions are met

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Not-in-my-back-yard opposition won’t stop oversized loads from traveling on U.S. Highway 12 in the coming months.

Idaho law requires the Transportation Department to issue permits for the loads if they can be moved safely without damaging the road and its bridges, said ITD spokesman Mel Coulter at Boise.

His agency also can consider if shippers are able to adhere to rules about preventing traffic jams.

The loads will move at night when traffic volume diminishes and shippers will have predetermined places to pull over so they don’t delay traffic for more than 15-minutes, Coulter said.

But they won’t necessarily have to use the turnouts if no vehicles are waiting to get through, Coulter said.

Officials from ITD and Imperial Oil will attend open houses on Monday and Tuesday in Moscow, Lewiston and Kooskia. They will answer the public’s questions and listen for any challenges in moving the cargo they haven’t already addressed. The gatherings are not public hearings.

Imperial Oil, whose parent company is ExxonMobil Canada, hopes to start moving more than 200 loads of processing equipment in November that it will barge to Lewiston, then transport by truck on Highway 12 to the Montana border. The equipment was made in South Korea and is headed for the Kearl Oil Sands Project in Alberta, Canada. The heaviest load would approach 580,000 pounds, counting the hauling equipment, and the lengths would range from 170 to 210 feet. A typical tractor-trailer load weighs about 80,000 pounds and is approximately 90 feet long.

Another company, Conoco Phillips, also wants to use Highway 12 for oversized loads. It has shipped four 375,000-pound, 25-foot-diameter drums from Japan to the Port of Lewiston, where they’re being stored until work on the Arrow Bridge allows for truck transport to Billings, Mont.

ITD has not yet issued permits for those trips. “Their shipment could be in July,” Coulter said.

Some believe it’s unlikely ITD will stop the loads.

“Idaho doesn’t have the teeth in its law requiring process,” said state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.

But Ringo and three other legislators in north central Idaho said they’ll be following the meetings closely. A key concern for Ringo and Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston, is how Imperial Oil would handle a disaster should one of the huge trucks end up in the Clearwater or Lochsa rivers, which parallel Highway 12.

“What I don’t want to have happen is to be told, ‘This is really safe,’ and then have a BP incident,” Chavez said.

Interest in the issue appears to be intense. Chavez, Ringo, Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, and Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, have been hearing about the issue from their constituents.

The feedback Chavez is receiving is mixed between those who believe the hauling will bring economic growth to the region and others who worry about safety or potential environmental impacts.

Those who contacted Rusche are wondering about how the road bed will be protected, how accidents with the truckloads will be handled and if the future of Highway 12 is best served with its continued use as a recreation corridor or as a large truck route.

The Latah County residents who have talked with Ringo and Trail are generally opposed to the plan. “I’m hearing big objections to it,” Ringo said. “I haven’t had anyone saying it’s a great idea.”

Regardless of where people stand on the issue, they should attend the open houses, since the large truck traffic could play a significant role in shaping the region’s future, Chavez said.

“Hopefully (the open houses) will be calm discussions of concerns,” Rusche added.

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