NO. 1: Permit process mushrooms into legal tussle


Sunday, January 2, 2011

What started as a seemingly routine permit request for oversized loads to travel on U.S. Highway 12 turned into a legal battle that has yet to run its course.

A total of 38 megaloads are sitting at the Port of Lewiston following the unprecedented legal battle that has pit a retired couple, a resort owner and others against two of the biggest oil companies in the world.

ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil and ConocoPhillips have been in talks with the Idaho Transportation Department for more than two years, planning how they would ship loads so large they will take up both lanes of traffic from Lewiston to the Montana border.

ConocoPhillips hopes to move two Japanese-made drums that have been cut in half to a refinery in Billings, Mont. ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil wants to haul 207 modules for a processing plant at the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada.

The ConocoPhillips loads weigh between 646,204 and 664,100 pounds. The biggest of the ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil loads would be 586,000 pounds. Until now the largest load to be trucked on Highway 12 weighed 437,000 pounds.

The issue – following a legal challenge that went from District Court to the Supreme Court and back to ITD – took a step toward resolution this past week.

Hearings officer Merlyn Clark, a Boise attorney, recommended permits be approved for ConocoPhillips. The ruling doesn’t become final until confirmed by ITD Director Brian Ness. Clark, however, gave the parties involved 14 days to petition for reconsideration, plus another seven days (21 total) in which to file briefs objecting to his findings.

The Tribune first reported on the issue in March. But it didn’t provoke controversy in north central Idaho until a few weeks later when the power went out briefly at the home of Linwood Laughy, who lives along Highway 12 near Kooskia. He discovered crews were moving power lines in anticipation of the moves.

Since that time Laughy, a retired school superintendent and community college president, along with his wife, Karen Hendrickson, a retired high school English teacher, have led opposition to the megaloads.

Laughy, Hendrickson and Peter Grubb, an owner of a resort, restaurant and river guide business next to Highway 12, filed a lawsuit just before ITD issued permits for the ConocoPhillips megaloads in August. The state high court ultimately ruled it had no jurisdiction over the case, but ITD agreed to provide intervener status to 13 people, which led to a hearing before Clark.

Everything points to the controversy continuing in 2011. Opponents of the loads have requested the same kind of review before ITD makes a decision on the permits for the ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil loads.