Oil company pushes ITD for decision on permits

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Friday, January 14, 2011

ConocoPhillips is urging the Idaho Transportation Department to finish its appeals process and issue permits for four megaloads parked at the Port of Lewiston.

The oil company says it has lost $4 million because of the legal maneuvering by the opposition to the megaloads that started in August, and the financial costs of waiting could soon escalate into tens of millions of dollars, according to documents the oil company filed this week with ITD.

ConocoPhillips was responding to a challenge by the opposition of a hearing officer’s recommendation. The hearing officer agreed with the oil company and ITD that both parties followed all the right steps so two Japanese-made drums, which have been cut in half, could be trucked across Idaho on U.S. Highway 12 on their way to a Billings, Mont., refinery.

ITD is the agency that will decide if the hearing officer’s recommendation will be honored, and it’s not clear when that will happen. ITD’s director has 21 days that started Monday to respond to the challenge of the hearing officer’s decision. An ITD spokesman has repeatedly not answered questions about if the megaloads might be allowed to go while the appeal is pending.

“The delays must end,” according to the ConocoPhillips filings. “ConocoPhillips needs to get two coke drums to Billings in order to make much needed repairs to its refinery, which is a critical source of domestic energy, supplying over 7 percent of Idaho’s gasoline alone.”

The megaloads are at the center of a nationwide controversy because U.S. 12 parallels the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers and winds through a narrow canyon. ITD will require the megaloads, which will take up two lanes of traffic, to pull over every 15 minutes.

Opponents worry the length of at least some of the delays has been miscalculated. They also expressed concern 207 ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil megaloads going to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada will follow. ITD is taking no action on them until after the ConocoPhillips matter is resolved.

In its filing, ConocoPhillips took issue with many of the points the opposition raised in its challenge of the hearing officer’s recommendation and alleged instances where the opposition misrepresented or didn’t understand parts of the record.

ITD has provided a 71/2-hour window in which the megaloads can travel on the four nights it will take each one to go from Lewiston to the Montana border. The longest night of travel would only take about 31/2 hours if the loads were averaging 15 mph, according to the filing.

“All experts, including the experts at ITD, agreed that the trip was feasible, could be done safely, and could occur with minimal inconvenience to the traveling public,” according to the ConocoPhillips filing.

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