Storm warning brings megaloads to a halt

Weather Service issues forecast for heavy snow in the area near Lowell

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Friday, February 4, 2011

KOOSKIA – Ready. Set. Wait.

Weather stopped the ConocoPhillips megaload just as it was about to enter one of the places it is least welcome.

Snow was anticipated at milepost 100, what would have been the halfway point on a segment that was supposed to end five miles east of the Lochsa Ranger station, said Adam Rush, a spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department.

It was the first part of a storm anticipated to dump between 9 and 20 inches of snow in three days.

The oversized loads need clear pavement between the fog lines to pass.

Had the half-drum for a Billings, Mont., refinery moved Thursday night, it would have passed in front of four homes and a resort owned by those involved in a court case opposing it. That litigation has prevented the cargo from hitting the road since the summer.

One opponent, Ruth May – an owner of Reflections Inn – planned to watch from her front yard. Her husband expected to observe the load as it crossed Maggie Creek, just downriver from Linwood Laughy’s house.

The Maggie Creek bridge is a point of concern for opponents. Extra wheels will be placed under the 226-foot-long, three-story high transport to better distribute the weight, just like at the Arrow Bridge 15 miles outside Lewiston.

The Mays got their first look at the overlegal load in their neighborhood Thursday. Previous work in real estate helped Ruth May comprehend the size. It struck her that nothing had been exaggerated about the load of about 300 tons.

“It was so incredible,” said May, who felt a sadness as she thought about the implications of hundreds more following.

A road construction project a couple of years ago reduced business by 10 to 15 percent. Megaloads could do something similar, depending on how disruptive they are, May said. “The jury is still out a little bit.”

She wondered how the lifestyles of Kooskia residents might change. Take Kooskia Crossing, where the load was parked at 5:15 a.m. Thursday.

Hundreds of volunteer hours went into developing the gateway into the community, May said. It has information for tourists and a metal sculpture depicting salmon. It also serves an important informal function, giving truckers a place to eat lunch and locals a spot to leave vehicles if they’re carpooling together somewhere.

The Mays think that and other public amenities might be needed so frequently for oversized load shipments the public would no longer have access.

Right now, the ITD has only given permission for two loads, both belonging to ConocoPhillips. The second is scheduled to leave Monday on a journey to Billings anticipated to take about three weeks.

The first four days for each megaload is on U.S. Highway 12 in Idaho, where they start in Lewiston, then stop at Orofino, Kooskia, five miles east of the Lochsa Ranger Station and at the Montana border.

The loads take up two lanes of traffic and are required to pull over every 10 to 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass.

ConocoPhillips wants to send two more drum halves on the same route in late March or early April. ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil has plans to ship 207 oversized loads bound for the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, but none of them are permitted yet.

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