Finally had a chance to visit directly with Gov. Butch Otter today about why he’s such a strong supporter of the plan by two oil companies to ship gigantic truckloads of oil equipment along U.S. Highway 12 from the Port of Lewiston to Montana through the Clearwater/Lochsa river canyon. Queried during a break in today’s Land Board meeting, here’s what Otter had to say:
“When we first started discussions, we wanted to protect ourselves. The question of a bond has always been there, or a deposit. How much was also going to be a good question.” He said, “We had satisfied ourselves to some degree. We had finally decided we were going to permit each load.” That way, Otter explained, the state could adjust requirements as needed, based on issues that arise with earlier truckloads, because a new permit would be issued for each load.
Otter characterized the proposals from Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips as similar to other expressions of interest from firms that want to do business in Idaho, many of which come through the state Department of Commerce. “It’s not unusual when somebody says, ‘We have this thing that we’re working on.’ Obviously in this case it was the Port. It’s not unusual for a company to come forward.”
“Once we expressed interest, it’s with the caveat that … make sure we’re safe, make sure we’re protected. ITD went up there and held three meetings,” he said, which took place in June. Otter wrote a letter to the Port pledging support for the proposal in January of 2009. “Obviously it means a lot to the Port and a demonstration of our own ability at the port to be able to handle large loads, to be able to handle unique loads,” the governor said. He added, “If we’re going to see things like this benefiting from a 400-plus mile river and Port’s ability to handle it, when can we look forward to hearing about manufacturing these types of things in Lewiston?” The equipment now proposed to be shipped is mostly manufactured in Korea; the first four shipments are of drums manufactured in Japan. Asked if he’s gotten any sign that such manufacturing in Lewiston would be realistic, Otter said, “No, but I’ve asked the question. I want ‘em thinking.”
“I see it as potential economic development,” Otter said, “but I also see it as having done everything right as a demonstration that we can do those kinds of things, and that port being 400 miles inland is extremely valuable. … That of course, then, is good for Lewiston, and therefore good for the state.”