Oil company planning open houses on proposed use of highway for oversized loads

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil Corp. will conduct open houses in early June in Lewiston, Orofino, Kamiah and Kooskia to answer questions about 200 oversized loads that may be taken on U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana.

The details of the gatherings, such as times and locations, are still being sorted through, according to representatives of the company who met with Nez Perce County commissioners on Wednesday.

Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil Corp. wants to take processing equipment made in South Korea and barged to the Port of Lewiston to the Kearl oil sands project in Alberta, Canada.

The moves, which would consume two lanes of U.S. Highway 12, would occur at night on weekdays during a one-year window. They would start in November and possibly extend into December before being halted for most of the winter months because of a 14-week closure starting in December of the barging route between Portland and Lewiston.

The closure is to allow rehabilitation of locks at The Dalles, John Day and Lower Monumental dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers. The hauling would resume as soon as the locks reopened.

Exactly how everything will unfold depends on a number of variables, including if the company can secure approval from Idaho and Montana. As it awaits those decisions, it’s studying the proposed route in a variety of ways, said Harry Lillo of Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil.

Its drivers have covered the highway, deciding what speeds and gears they would use on each section to be sure they can make it from one pullout to another within the 15 minutes of travel they’re allowed before they have to let any vehicles behind or in front of them pass. The speeds will range anywhere from 5 mph heading up and down mountain passes to 30 mph on flat stretches.

Tests have been done around tight corners to be sure the trucks, which will have 100 sets of wheels, will be able to maneuver around them.

They’ve also coordinated with the Idaho State Police so the drivers can be alerted if fire trucks or ambulances need to pass, Lillo said.

Other precautions are being taken to make the trips as safe as possible. Drivers would survey the entire route early in the evening before each leg of the trip to make any final adjustments, which can even include delays based on weather and road conditions, Lillo said.

The company will update a Web site for the public during the moves where it will have a schedule posted, Lillo said.

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