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Oil company mega-cargo piles up in Lewiston while the courts decide on permits.

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Even as the Idaho Supreme Court considers whether to allow four shipments of oversized industrial cargo to trundle over Lolo Pass, another 207 of the so-called megaloads are arriving at the port of Lewiston — and more may be in the pipeline, so to speak.

Two oil companies, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, are now storing enormous pieces of refining or extraction gear at the port of Lewiston for eventual transport by truck over Lolo Pass. A third company, a Canadian subsidiary of the South Korean government’s oil corporation, has been in talks with the Idaho Department of Transportation to do the same.

The developments strengthen the suspicions among locals that “there is a scheme afoot to turn this into an industrial truck route,” says Borg Hendrickson, one of three residents along the federally designated Wild and Scenic Lochsa and Clearwater rivers who have sued to stop ConocoPhillips from trucking four giant coke drums over Highway 12 to a refinery in Billings.

The Idaho Supreme Court is weighing a joint appeal by ConocoPhillips and the highway department arguing a district court judge was wrong to revoke ITD’s permits to allow the shipment of the four coke drums.

Others object to the prospect of regular industrial loads traversing Lolo Pass. The Nez Perce Tribe has passed a resolution opposing the transport of industrial megaloads over the highway, which runs through part of its reservation.

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

Last week, ConocoPhillips asked the court for an expedited order, basically saying, “Hey, if you are going to rule in our favor, let us know now so we can start trucking this stuff over the pass before winter.” Or, if the court is going to rule against them, they can move the loads back downriver before the Corps of Engineers closes the locks for three months of maintenance and repair.

Erik Stidham, an attorney with the Boise firm representing ConocoPhillips, says, “We have not heard anything yet.”

Interruption of river barging for lock repair is said to be the reason ExxonMobil’s Canadian holding, Imperial Oil, is moving the first waves of its 207 megaloads from the port of Vancouver, Wash., up to Lewiston well in advance of securing trip permits from ITD.

Attorneys for Laughry and Hendrickson only recently learned, after a public records request, that ITD has been in talks with Harvest Operations about running 40 to 60 megaloads over the highway starting next June.

Imperial’s loads are headed to the Kearl Oil Sands project, Harvest’s to the BlackGold Oil Sands project. Both are in Alberta.

MEDIA ATTENTION

The issue of the megaloads is gaining attention from coast to coast. The Los Angeles Times weighed in on the topic in mid-September, and last weekend the New York Times was poking around Lewiston and the Lochsa canyon.

Lewiston Tribune reporter Joel Mills, while covering a weekend protest near the port of Lewiston, bumped into a freelance photographer who said he was shooting for a story by the Times’ alternative energy and green business reporter, Tom Zeller Jr.

Also, the Eugene Weekly had a lengthy story quoting former Green Party vice-presidential candidate and Native American activist Winona LaDuke, who is fighting the shipments as a way to protest the open-pit extraction of bitumen from tar sands. 

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