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Posts tagged: Northwest Passage Scenic Byway

Montana could issue megaload permit ‘very quickly,’ but will wait for Idaho

Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, says that state has gone through an environmental review of ConocoPhillips’ application to run four giant, oversized truckloads from Lolo Pass to its Billings refinery. “Right now, we’re working out the details,” he said. That includes finalizing a memorandum of understanding laying out emergency plans and specific responsibilities for ConocoPhillips and its shipper, Emmert International. “We’re close to the end of our process, so it could happen very quickly,” Lynch said Friday. However, he said, “The state of Montana can’t issue a permit until we know that the shipper has a legal right to be at our border.”

That means it has to wait for Idaho to act first, since the mega-loads, now at the Port of Lewiston, have to travel U.S. Highway 12 through Idaho to get to the Montana line at the pass. Idaho has oral arguments scheduled for Nov. 19 on whether to allow opponents to intervene and participate in a full public hearing on the proposal.

ITD sets Nov. 19 hearing on whether to allow hearings on megaloads

Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness has scheduled a hearing for next Friday, Nov. 19, on the petition to intervene by opponents of the ConocoPhillips megaloads. That’s the hearing on whether or not the department will hold a full contest-case hearing on the proposal. You can read Ness’ letter here, which also sets a deadline for briefing on the question of next Wednesday.

Business group backs megaloads

A business group called “Drive Our Economy” was launched this week – actually within moments of the ITD’s announcement that it was issuing but staying permits for four U.S. Highway 12 mega-loads - to promote plans to move gigantic loads of oil refinery equipment along the scenic North-Central Idaho route. Lobbyist Ken Burgess said the new group has launched a website to argue for the economic benefits of the mega-loads. “The bottom line is this: They are concerned about precedent,” Burgess said, as many oversize loads travel Idaho roads, though not to the scale of the mega-loads.

 

Click below to read the group’s full news release, which says the effort is “a project of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.”

Big loads not rolling yet…

The permits that ITD issued this week for the first four mega-loads on U.S. Highway 12 may say they’re valid as of 10 p.m. tonight, but at this point ITD says the ConocoPhillips loads won’t be moving tonight. The permits were stayed while a hearing officer determines whether ITD should hold a contested case hearing; that hearing officer, attorney and former Idaho State Bar President Merlyn Clark, hasn’t yet issued a ruling and it’s not clear how long that process will take. Plus, ITD’s permits are contingent on Montana also issuing permits for the giant truckloads – which will take up both lanes of the two-lane highway – to travel in that state as well. That hasn’t yet happened.

“We will only issue a permit to Conoco when we are convinced that Montana is ready to issue one as well,” said Jeff Stratten, ITD spokesman. Montana officials were notified when ITD issued but stayed its four permits this week, Stratten said; “They were aware of what we were doing.”  At that point, he said, there was “no need” for Montana to issue permits because ITD’s permits were stayed and weren’t going into effect.

Stratten said the next step in the process is setting briefing and hearing schedules for the arguments on whether or not to allow parties to intervene and participate in hearings; both should take place within the next week to 10 days, he said.”The hearing officer could rule at the conclusion of the oral arguments or could issue a ruling later,” Stratten said.

ITD issues permits for first four mega-loads, but suspends pending ruling

The Idaho Transportation Department just announced that it has issued permits today for the first four mega-loads proposed for U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, the four proposed by Conoco-Phillips, but is suspending the shipments until after a hearing officer rules on a petition for intervention and  hearings by residents and businesses along the route. Click below to read ITD’s full news release.

Yesterday at 5 p.m., ConocoPhillips filed a legal brief with ITD arguing against allowing anyone to intervene in the case and in favor of letting it go ahead with the shipments. The four giant loads of oil refinery equipment already are at the Port of Lewiston, and rumors have been hot and heavy that they’ll be moving soon. You can read Conoco’s brief here.

Conoco spokesman John Roper said it’s true that the loads have been being readied for transport. “We did get some stuff prepped” as a “prudent business decision,” he said. “If we can get ‘em rolling, we want to.”

The previous permits ITD issued for the four Conoco mega-loads were only good for five days; ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten wasn’t sure how long the new permits issued today will be valid, given the suspension.

Missoulian: Highway 12 permits in ‘chicken-or-egg’ situation

The Missoulian reports today that Idaho is taking the position that it won’t permit mega-loads of oil equipment to travel U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho until Montana issues permits for its leg of the trip, and Montana is taking the position that it won’t issue permits until Idaho approves the huge loads. “We’ve said all along we can’t issue a permit for someone to bring this size of a load through Montana until we know that they can be at our border legally,” said Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation. “That means they have to have permits in place to get there as well.” However, neither state views this as a problem, and both say they can work it out. You can read the full story here from Missoulian reporter Kim Briggeman.

Advocates: Ruling could mean more public hearings before megaloads roll

The Idaho Supreme Court’s highly technical decision today in the Highway 12 mega-loads case may mean more public hearings and other steps before the giant truckloads could roll, according to the attorneys for Highway 12 residents and business owners who sued to block the loads.

Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West, which represented the residents for free, said if the Idaho Transportation Department must follow contested case hearing rules on the mega-loads, that’ll “allow for a much fuller airing of the issues.” Lucas already has filed a formal petition with ITD for a contested case hearing on the ExxonMobil proposal; he said he plans a similar filing on the ConocoPhillips mega-loads very soon.

“That’s better for everybody to get all the facts out on the table,” Lucas said. “We’ve had a lot of dealings behind closed doors here. I actually thing the Supreme Court ruling is a positive step for us even though technically they dismissed our petition. I think they opened up the doors for the public to be much more involved in the decision-making over these mega-loads.”

SupCourt ruling rests on technical issue

The Idaho Supreme Court decision in the mega-loads case turns on the question of whether the ConocoPhillips application for permits should be considered a “contested case” or not; the majority of the court said it should, and the dissenters said it shouldn’t. That’s a technical issue that affects the jurisdiction of the court to review the outcome; neither the majority nor the minority addressed the direct issues of whether the loads were properly permitted or not. In his dissent, Justice Jim Jones wrote, “As persons who live along the route and who will be affected by the transportation of the ConocoPhillips units, Respondents certainly appear to be aggrieved persons. As such, they have a right to be heard.” But it’s not clear when - just not, at this point, in court.

Jones also notes in his dissent that the permits for the first four mega-loads “apparently … will lie dormant until such time as the state of Montana issues permits.” It hasn’t yet done so.

Chief Justice Dan Eismann and Justice Joel Horton concurred in the majority opinion, written by Justice Warren Jones. It holds that the issue was a “contested case,” though informally handled, which meant it can’t be reviewed in court and instead should be reviewed at the agency. However, the majority opinion held that “the Court must dismiss the case and does not have the power to remand to the agency for further proceedings.”

High court overturns Judge Bradbury, OKs four mega-loads on Highway 12

The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled in favor of allowing four mega-loads of oil refinery equipment to travel scenic U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, overturning a lower-court judge who revoked the permits for the four giant truckloads. The court, in a 21-page ruling, found that it didn’t have jurisdiction to revoke the permits for the loads, and neither did the district court.

“It is entirely possible that Respondents have real grievances with ITD’s decision in this case,” the court held. “Even so, the Constitution and the Legislature have limited the Court’s power to act here. … The Court’s only choice is to remand with instructions to dismiss without prejudice.”
Justice Warren Jones wrote the 3-2 decision; Justice Jim Jones wrote a dissent, in which Justice Roger Burdick concurred; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com and read the opinion here.

ConocoPhillips Corp. wants to send the loads, which are so wide they’ll take up both lanes of the two-lane road, across the route immediately to get the equipment to its refinery in Billings, Mont., though it still must receive permits from the state of Montana. They’re just the first mega-loads proposed for the route, however; Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil has a proposal in the works for 207 giant loads to start traveling this month and continue for a year, to run from the Port of Lewiston through Montana and up to its Alberta oil sands project in Canada.

NP Tribe: We weren’t consulted

Here’s a statement from the Nez Perce Tribe, whose reservation includes 70 miles of the route that proposed mega-loads of oil equipment would travel along Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, in response to news that ISP patrols to accompany ExxonMobil’s proposed mega-loads were approved by the state back in 2009. The tribe opposes the loads:

“The Nez Perce Tribe has significant treaty-reserved and cultural resource and safety concerns with Highway 12 being turned into an industrial corridor.  These concerns have been formally communicated to the United States Forest Service and Federal Highway Administration leadership and we are awaiting their response.  The Nez Perce Tribe was not contacted about the nature and impact of these projects until recently.  At that point, it was becoming quite apparent that the contact was not in the nature of a consultation about proposed projects but rather an informational session about what would be occurring.”  

ISP escorts for Exxon Highway 12 mega-loads were approved in 2009

State records show that Idaho’s top three elected officials signed off in June 2009 on a plan to have ExxonMobil pay state patrol officers to accompany oversize truckloads of oil refinery equipment as they traveled scenic U.S. Highway 12 in North Idaho. That was a year before three public meetings were held in north-central Idaho about the controversial project, which has drawn hundreds of objections and is currently the topic of a lawsuit pending at the Idaho Supreme Court.

In a memo dated June 1, 2009, Idaho State Police Director Col. Jerry Russell asked the state Board of Examiners to approve the overtime plan for officers. “Exxon Oil Co. is starting a new refinery in Canada,” the memo stated. “The refinery parts are being barged into Lewiston starting in 2010 and will be trucked up U.S. 12 and eventually into Canada with over 150 loads of a special semi-truck/trailer combination that is 150 feet long and 24 feet wide.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Allred: ‘No to the mega-loads’

Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred said today that he’s against the proposed mega-loads of oil equipment proposed to travel along Idaho’s narrow and scenic U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, for which current Gov. Butch Otter has been an enthusiastic proponent. “In an Allred administration, these trucks wouldn’t get permits,” Allred said. “There simply are not good enough answers to the questions Idaho citizens have raised about these shipments.” You can read Allred’s full announcement here.

Conoco wants quick go-ahead for mega-loads

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — ConocoPhillips is asking the Idaho Supreme Court to quickly announce whether it will uphold or overturn a lower court’s decision to halt the movement of four oversized loads of refinery equipment on Idaho roadways. ConocoPhillips wants to transfer the refinery equipment from Lewiston over Lolo Pass and in to Montana, where it will be used to upgrade a refinery in Billings, Mont. The Lewiston Tribune reports the company filed a motion Monday asking the high court to announce its decision as soon as possible, even if the written ruling is not yet available. The company says if a favorable decision is received quickly, it could still have time to move the loads over the pass before winter sets in. The court heard arguments on Oct. 1.

You can read Conoco’s motion here.

More mega-loads proposed for Hwy 12, ITD quietly met with Korean firm Sept. 15

The Idaho Transportation Department met with a Korean firm in September that wants to move another 40 to 60 giant truckloads of oil equipment across scenic U.S. Highway 12, and local residents who are suing over four other shipments didn’t find out until their attorney filed a public records request. ITD officials met with half a dozen representatives of Harvest Energy and its associates on Sept. 15 to discuss the additional oversized truckloads, proposed to start in June of 2011 and travel through Idaho and Montana on the way to the Alberta oil sands project in Canada. The loads would travel from the Port of Vancouver to the Port of Lewiston by barge; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“A single state agency is in the process of changing forever the character of Idaho’s Clearwater-Lochsa corridor,” Highway 12 residents Borg Hendrickson and Linwood Laughy said in an email. They decried “closed-door meetings” and a lack of input. Adam Rush, ITD spokesman, said, “The transportation department and Harvest Energy discussed load dimensions, bridges on U.S. 12, clearances, traffic control plans and the weight of shipments. No proposals were submitted to ITD by Harvest Energy. June of 2011 was mentioned as a preliminary start date to move equipment.” He added, “The department meets routinely with haulers who have questions about permits.”

The Idaho Supreme Court is currently weighing an appeal by ITD and ConocoPhillips of a lower court decision to revoke permits for four mega-loads to travel the route right away. Laughy is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that blocked the permits, charging that ITD violated its own regulations in granting them.

First Exxon loads arriving from Korea

The first shipments of oil field equipment for Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil’s Kearl oil sands project in Canada will arrive at the Port of Vancouver from Korea on Monday, the Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. reports; those are the mega-loads that ExxonMobil hopes to truck through Idaho along scenic U.S. Highway 12 from the Port of Lewiston, then through Montana and up to Canada, starting in November and lasting for a year, though the company doesn’t have permits yet from either Idaho or Montana. You can read the Columbian’s report here. The Port of Vancouver is expecting to make $1 million from having the oversized loads pass through its port.

Justices pondering Highway 12 mega-loads case

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on this morning’s arguments at the Idaho Supreme Court in the Highway 12 mega-loads case, in which the justices raised complex legal issues along with lots of questions; they then took the case under advisement and will issue a written ruling. And here’s ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten’s statement on this morning’s hearing:  “ITD thanks the Supreme Court for its attention and focus on the issues. We believe we made a strong argument demonstrating the department acted appropriately, within its own rules and the laws of the state. We look forward to the court’s decision.”

Justices have lots of questions in Highway 12 shipments case

Justices of the Idaho Supreme Court had lots of questions for all sides at the hearing this morning on the Highway 12 mega-loads appeal. Here, the justices shake hands with attorneys on both sides - those for the Idaho Transportation Department and ConocoPhillips were seated on the left, and those representing Highway 12 residents and businesses were on the right - at the end of the arguments. After hearing from both sides, the court took the case under advisement.

Among the justices’ questions:

Several questioned why ConocoPhillips moved its giant Japan-made coke drums to the Port of Lewiston in May, if no permit had yet been approved to truck them over scenic Highway 12 to Billings.  “What gave ConocoPhillips the inkling that they could go ahead and move their stuff to Lewiston?” asked Justice Jim Jones. “I just wonder why they did that when they did not have a permit in hand.” ITD’s attorney, Larry Allen, responded that it was a “business decision” on the company’s part. Jones responded, “Did the department really understand that it could either grant or deny the permit?” “Absolutely, your honor,” Allen replied. Erik Stidham, attorney for ConocoPhillips, told the court the company made the decision to move the drums to Lewiston “based on the input given by the experts at ITD” that it could meet the state’s permit requirements.

Justice Joel Horton commented, “It feels like we’re being asked to decide a lot more than these particular loads.” He also asked about liability for personal injury or property damage to residents along the route from the shipments, as opposed to liability for damage to the state, for which the state is requiring a $10,000 bond.

Justice Warren Jones raised questions about whether the district court even had jurisdiction to review the case, and Chief Justice Daniel Eismann joined in that line of questioning.

Eismann told the residents’ attorney, Laird Lucas, that he agreed with ITD’s argument that its regulation requiring oversize loads to let traffic pass at least every 10 minutes doesn’t apply if there’s a traffic plan that allows for “frequent passing.” Lucas disagreed, saying that interpretation would allow ITD to define “frequent passing” as once an hour, defeating the purpose of the 10-minute rule, which he said sets the “outer boundary.” Horton asked Allen, “Why shouldn’t we look to the 10-minute rule at that point?” to which Allen responded that situations vary, and some loads might provide for passing without scheduled turnout times. Justice Jim Jones said, “I think the issue of the 10-minute rule and all that stuff is pretty much cut and dried.”

Justice Roger Burdick asked ITD how much it costs to rebuild a highway, per mile; Allen said he didn’t have that answer.

Highway 12 mega-loads case hits Idaho Supreme Court today

The Idaho Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this morning on the Highway 12 mega-loads appeal; the arguments start at 9 a.m. and are scheduled to last an hour. They come as a tanker truck crash and diesel spill this week along the Lochsa River on Highway 12 has focused renewed attention on risks to the scenic corridor; click below for a full report on that from AP and the Lewiston Tribune.

Congressman calls for investigation of oversize Highway 12 shipments

An Oregon congressman who chairs a House subcommittee on highways is calling for a federal investigation into plans for oversize shipments of oil equipment across U.S. Highway 12 to Canada, saying he doesn’t want U.S. taxpayers subsidizing Canadian oil production. “I am concerned about the ExxonMobil Canada plan to use U.S. roadways to haul oversize loads to Alberta, Canada for the Kearl Oil Sands project,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, wrote to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on Aug. 25; you can read his letter here. “If Idaho and Montana issue oversize and overweight load permits in violation of the Federal Bridge Formula, American taxpayers will pay the price for the unprecedented wear and tear on our highway system,” DeFazio wrote. “I am opposed to subsidizing ExxonMobil oil sands mining in Canada with taxpayer dollars.”

DeFazio, who has represented southwest Oregon in Congress since 1986 and is a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wrote that moving truckloads as large as those proposed would “degrade highway surfaces and subsurfaces, damage bridges and road shoulders, and dramatically increase maintenance and repair costs,” while the only ones to benefit would be a Canadian oil company and the Korean manufacturer of the equipment.

Neither state has yet issued permits for the 200-plus huge loads that ExxonMobil plans to truck to Canada from the Port of Lewiston starting in November. But Idaho is locked in litigation now with ConocoPhillips over four similar oversize loads that firm wanted to haul over the same route starting three weeks ago; you can read my full story here from today’s Spokesman-Revew.

Lewis, Clark, and ConocoPhillips?

Legal arguments filed with the Idaho Supreme Court in advance of the Oct. 1 oral arguments in the Highway 12 giant-shipments case include this from ConocoPhillips, the company that wants to move oversized equipment for its Billings oil refinery through the scenic byway and historic river corridor: A comparison of the search for an appropriate route to move the refinery equipment to Lewis and Clark’s historic journey along the same route, seeking a northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean. The route is now designated as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway. “A big oil company is invoking the spirit of famed explorers Lewis and Clark to help make its case before the Idaho Supreme Court to ship four oversized loads of refinery equipment along a northern Idaho highway,” writes AP reporter Todd Dvorak; click below for his full report.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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