No change in megaloads opinion

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 | By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune The Lewiston Tribune

The hearing officer has denied a request by megaload opponents to change his mind about his recommendation supporting plans of Imperial Oil to send more than 100 oversized loads across Idaho on U.S. Highway 12.

“I conclude … that nothing raised in the motions persuades me that I have overlooked or misapplied the evidence offered in this case, overlooked or misapplied the law that applies to this case, or overlooked or misunderstood any of petitioners’ arguments,” Duff McKee wrote in a document released Tuesday by the Idaho Transportation Department in Boise.

McKee, a retired judge, sat through more than two weeks of testimony in the spring from opponents, Imperial Oil and ITD before issuing a recommendation that sided with the oil company.

McKee’s decision is just one more development as the argument continues about the feasibility of Imperial Oil’s megaloads.

Opponents have 21 days to file objections with Brian Ness, the director of ITD in Boise and have indicated they will do so.

“Should the exceptions be rejected, (the opponents) will have the option of filing a petition for judicial review in state court,” according to a statement issued by the opponents.

Raising concerns with ITD isn’t the only way opponents are trying to block the loads. The Missoula County commissioners and three environmental groups are pursuing litigation in Montana. A judge in that case recently barred the Montana Department of Transportation from issuing permits for Imperial Oil megaloads while the litigation is pending.

Idaho Rivers United has filed a lawsuit at the federal level that also seeks to stop the loads that would carry pieces of a processing plant from the Port of Lewiston to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. The modules are being made in Korea and barged to Lewiston.

Opponents allege the loads, which take up two lanes of traffic, could hurt tourism, create safety issues for motorists and damage the road.

Imperial Oil has taken a variety of steps to address those concerns including creating a plan where the loads pull over every 15 minutes to allow vehicles to pass, travel between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. when traffic is lightest and are accompanied by Idaho State Police.