Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Imperial Oil's megaload debut a shocker, cuts power to towns

Posted on Tue, Apr 12, 2011 at 2:30 PM

The long-delayed debut of Imperial Oil's first megaload — an enormous piece of mining gear bound for the oil sands of northern Canada — didn't go exactly as planned after it left the Port of Lewiston on Monday night.

"We're going to do everything we can to accomplish this move safely and flawlessly," said an Imperial spokesman, Pius Rolheiser, moments before the 245-ton load rolled onto Highway 12 at Lewiston at 10 pm Monday. Imperial, which is the Canadian subsidiary of oil giant Exxon/Mobil, is seeking permits for 207 megaloads to traverse the narrow and twisty highway along the wild and scenic Lochsa and Clearwster rivers over Lolo Pass into Montana.

The test module was intended to assuage any doubts.

Imperial's hauler, the Dutch transporter Mammoet (mam-moot), would need only three nights to reach Montana, Rolheiser has said.

"They did not have a very good night," says Linwood Laughy, a resident of Highway 12 near Kooskia and one of the first group of residents and local businesses to mount a David v. Goliath challenge to the oil companies and the state of Idaho over the megaload shipments. (Laughy's wife Borg Hendrickson and ROW Adventure's Peter Grubb are the other two original challengers.)

Imperial's test module, 24 feet wide, three stories tall and 254-feet long, snapped tree branches along the highway, Laughy says, and then shorted out power to 1,300 homes on the Weippe Prairie, about 40 miles east of Lewiston.

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The module clipped a guy wire that was holding up a power pole just outside of Orofino. The broken, steel cable then whipped upward and fell atop the power lines, shorting out the power.

The megaload was stalled for an hour, blocking both lanes of the highway, before it was allowed to move again. The load had to be off the roadway by 5:30 am, and pulled onto a turnout 13 miles short of it's intended destination at Kooskia.

The module will remain parked tonight while the Idaho Transportation Department and Imperial Oil try to assess what went wrong.

Imperial is facing a lawsuit in Montana, seeking to deny it travel permits, and a federal lawsuit as well as a contested case hearing before ITD on April 25 brought by Laughy, Hendrickson and Grubb.

"No one was hurt," Rolheiser, the Imperial spokesman, said Monday.

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