Thursday, January 13, 2011
Brian Ness, director of the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), had been expected this week to issue travel permits for four massive loads of refinery gear — at three stories tall and more than 300 tons each, the largest, heaviest loads ever to travel an Idaho highway — but has delayed in light of further opposition, an ITD spokesman says.
"We are postponing the issuance until that [appeals] process is concluded," says ITD spokesman Adam Rush.
The so-called megaloads have created a firestorm of attention since it became known several months ago that ITD has been discussing for at least two years, with several oil companies, permitting heavy cargo shipments over Lolo Pass, where Highway 12 is a federally designated National Scenic Byway.
The local opposition (and perhaps national press coverage) resulted in unprecedented public hearings for what ITD calls "overlegal" cargo permits. Late in December, a specially appointed hearing examiner sided with the state and ConocoPhillips that the oil company should be allowed to haul gigantic coke drums over Lolo Pass to replace older units at its refinery in Billings. The coke drums, manufactured in Japan, had been shipped to the Port of Lewiston in May — long before any permits were issued.
ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, which is proposing a year's worth of 207 megaloads to go over Lolo Pass and then north to be part of the open-pit mining of tar sands in Alberta, contend the unlikely route is the only way to ship enormous loads to the interior without obstruction. A third oil company, the Korean National Oil Company subsidiary Harvest Energy, has also been in talks with ITD for 63 more megaloads.
The Boise-based Advocates for the West law firm, representing 13 locals who object to the shipments, appealed this week, saying hearing examiner Merle Clark ignored specific complaints, and erred in focusing solely on the four ConocoPhillips loads and not on the de facto transformation of Highway 12 into a "high and wide" industrial cargo corridor.
ConocoPhillips and ITD also filed documents this week, contending the opposition group (which they identify by name of Linwood Laughy, one of three original intervenors) has not proven its arguments and should be tossed aside.
"The Laughy Group has delayed the four ConocoPhillips shipments long enough," attorney Erik Stidham writes.