Proposal on megaload permit process stalls in committee

Bill to add public hearing requirement is rejected on party-line vote

By William L. Spence of the Tribune

Tuesday, February 15, 2011
BOISE – A proposal to add a public hearing requirement to the megaload permitting process stalled in the House Transportation Committee Monday.

Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, wanted to require one public hearing for any oversized load permits in excess of 500,000 pounds. His bill was prompted by recent concerns over giant shipments ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil want to transport along U.S. 12.

Many people living along the highway corridor feel the state’s permitting process has been adequate and favor letting the shipments proceed. Others, however, are concerned about damage to the highway infrastructure, the potential negative effects on regional tourism, travel delays and the possibility U.S. 12 could be turned into an industrial corridor for years to come.

“It’s been a challenging issue,” Trail said. Requiring one public hearing would improve the transparency of the permitting process and give the public an opportunity to voice their objections to these massive loads, he said. Only one hearing would be required, regardless of how many loads a company was proposing. A trigger of 500,000 pounds was chosen because only the very largest loads exceed that weight.

Nevertheless, the Transportation Committee rejected the bill on an 11-3 party-line vote. Rep. Jeff Nesset, R-Lewiston, voted with the majority in favor of killing the bill, while Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, voted in opposition.

Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, noted nothing precludes the Idaho Transportation Department from changing its own rules to require a hearing.

“The department and folks living along Highway 12 have gone through quite a learning experience,” he said. “I think it’s only fair to give the department an opportunity to reflect on its rules and make the changes it feels are appropriate. It’s a little premature to run a bill (mandating that change).”

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, felt ITD already had the option to require a public hearing and was afraid Trail’s proposal could become an impediment to commerce.

“I believe this hasn’t been well thought out,” she said of the bill.

Spence may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2274.