Official sides with megaloads opponents

ITD will review recommendation to grant intervenor status

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A hearing officer sided with three opponents of ConocoPhillips megaloads.

Boise attorney Merlyn Clark recommended Wednesday that Peter Grubb, Linwood Laughy and Karen Hendrickson be named intervenors who get to testify at a formal contested case hearing.

That proceeding should be conducted before the Idaho Transportation Department lifts a stay on permits for the cargo to travel across the state on U.S. Highway 12, according to Clark’s recommendation.

Brian Ness, the director of ITD, will review the recommendation and decide what the agency will do next, according to an ITD news release. No date has been set for the formal contested case hearing, and anyone can request a reconsideration of the recommendation within 14 days.

Clark granted the request of Grubb, Laughy and Hendrickson because he found they have a “direct and substantial” interest in ITD’s action on the permits for the megaloads that would take up two lanes of traffic.

Hendrickson, who lives along the highway near Kooskia with her husband, Laughy, has claimed the shipments would obstruct her ability to use the highway to get to the hospital in Orofino. She also has stated they would interfere with her ability to get a full night’s rest, something she needs because of a health problem.

Laughy, who conducts cultural tours along the highway, and Grubb, who runs a resort on the road, have alleged their businesses would suffer because of the megaloads.

ConocoPhillips believes Clark’s recommendation doesn’t adequately account for all the careful planning of ConocoPhillips, the contractor it hired to move its megaloads, ITD, state government and local agencies, according to a statement the company issued. “We are well prepared to transport our refinery equipment … safely and in a way that protects roads and accommodates traffic flow.”

ConocoPhillips is refurbishing its Billings, Mont., refinery. The oil company is worried it will lose $40 million if it can’t get two drums, split in half for the journey, to the refinery in time for the spring project.

The Japanese-made drums were barged to the Port of Lewiston and have been stranded there since May. Initially the delay occurred because construction on Arrow Bridge, a place where U.S. Highway 12 crosses the Clearwater River, took longer than ITD anticipated. Then Grubb, Laughy and Hendrickson initiated litigation that blocked the megaloads and was eventually taken to the Idaho Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court found it had no jurisdiction, which put the next step into the hands of ITD. The agency chose to conduct a hearing last week where Clark heard from the opponents, ITD and ConocoPhillips. That hearing resulted in Wednesday’s recommendation.

Opponents of the megaloads worry that ITD and ConocoPhillips haven’t taken enough precautions to protect the safety of motorists and the pristine nature of the river canyons that U.S. Highway 12 traverses.

Among ITD’s requirements are they travel between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. and usually pull over every 10 minutes to allow cars to pass during a four-day, 175-mile trip to the Montana border.

Opponents wonder if ITD’s decision on the ConocoPhillips megaloads will affect 207 more similarly sized shipments ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil wants to send along the same route in the coming year. The second oil company is already stockpiling Korean-manufactured modules bound for a Kearl Oil Sands processing plant in Alberta, Canada, at the Port of Lewiston. ITD has not issued any permits for them.

Clark specified in his recommendation the additional proceeding he suggests would be confined to the ConocoPhillips megaloads.

“The issues are limited only to the four permits sought by applicants and evidence that others may seek overlegal permits at some future date is not relevant and will not be considered in this contested case proceeding,” Clark wrote.

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