Sides square off at megaload hearing

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune
May 12, 2011
What the trip of an Imperial Oil test validation module proved continued to be debated Wednesday as a contested case hearing on megaloads finished.

The Idaho Transportation Department didn’t document what happened on U.S. Highway 12 between Lewiston and the Montana border, making it impossible to reach conclusions about if the agency’s requirements were met, said Pat Dobie, a Boise transportation engineer who testified for opponents. “I found no evidence there was any sort of observation of what transpired.”

Dobie was among close to two dozen witnesses who appeared in the proceeding that stretched out more than two weeks. Both sides have until May 27 to submit briefs.

Then Duff McKee, a retired state court district judge, will provide a recommendation to ITD about if the agency should allow more than 100 megaloads of Imperial Oil to take U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to the Montana border.

Supporters of the megaloads dismissed all the testimony presented by opponents in a press release issued by Drive Our Economy.

“The hearing not only showed that oversize shipments are safe and well-planned, but also shined a light on the opponents of shipping and commerce, exposing their arguments as little more than unverifiable claims and personal opinions,” said Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry in Boise.

Each extra big shipment would consume two lanes of traffic and be expected to pull over every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass. They would be restricted to travel between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. when the volume of vehicles is the lightest.

The megaloads Imperial Oil wants to ship carry Korean-made components for a processing plant in the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. They would be barged from Vancouver, Wash., to the Port of Lewiston where they would be off loaded for the road portion of their journey.

The largest, weighing about 500,000 pounds, would be among the heaviest loads to ever use U.S. 12. That prompted ITD to require a test run of a shipment of the same weight and dimensions as the biggest of Imperial loads to see if the narrow, curvy highway could accommodate them.

Kenneth Johnson last week testified the transport of the test module was “very well done” in spite of it tearing off a tree limb in Lewiston, causing a power outage and experiencing multiple delays for weather. Johnson is the Kearl module transportation project manager for Imperial Oil, which is owned mostly by ExxonMobil.

Dobie noted in his testimony Wednesday that the volume of traffic the megaload encountered in April was lighter than it will be in the summer when more tourists are on the road.

The plans of Imperial Oil and ITD for megaloads are flawed in other ways, Dobie said. Even using ITD’s estimates involving weight distribution, the fees ITD is charging for the megaloads won’t cover the wear they do to the roads, Dobie said.

Wrong assumptions have been made about vehicle volumes and how motorists will behave, Dobie said. One example is anticipating they will move at 55 mph when they’re passing the megaloads parked at the side of the road and not slow down out of curiosity, Dobie said. “There will be a great amount of friction on the road.”