Plaintiffs say state fails to protect public, environment
LEWISTON – A state judge will decide today if ConocoPhillips can ship four oversized loads of oil refinery equipment along a highway that traces a winding, federally protected river corridor in Idaho.
Last week, 2nd District Judge John Bradbury put a temporary halt on the oil company’s plans to ship the massive coke drums along the 175-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 12.
During a hearing Monday, the attorney representing the plaintiffs who sued to block the shipments claimed the Idaho Department of Transportation failed to consider a wide range of issues in approving permits for the oversized loads, the Lewiston Tribune reported.
Plaintiff attorney Natalie Havlina told the judge that agency officials narrowly focused their review on potential damage to roads and bridges but failed to adequately consider other factors, such as public safety and convenience, as required by state code.
The agency “has abandoned its responsibility to protect the public’s health,” Havlina, an attorney for the Boise-based Advocates for the West, told the judge in a courtroom packed with opponents of the shipments.
But attorneys for the state and oil company disagreed. The agency suggested numerous changes in the company’s travel plans, resulting in a 700-page document that lays out the ground rules for the shipments, they said.
“Two years of negotiations helped us create a plan that was in the public’s best interest,” agency attorney Tim Thomas told the judge.
Bradbury said he would decide today whether to extend the ban or clear the way for the trucks to roll along the highway that snakes the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers and was once explored by Lewis and Clark.
The lawsuit was filed last week by Linwood Laughy and his wife, Karen “Borg” Hendrickson, who live and operate businesses along the route, and Peter Grubb, who guides in the area and operates a lodge on the Lochsa River.
Detractors say the trucks and massive loads could damage a pristine river environment, harm tourism in a region dependent on visitors and threaten public safety.
The ConocoPhillips shipments are just the first oversized loads planned for the corridor.
In November, Exxon Mobil Corp. is proposing to haul more than 200 oversized loads of heavy oil machinery from the port in Lewiston along Highway 12 into Montana, then north to the Kearn Oil Sands project in Alberta.
Each of the Exxon loads would weigh 300 tons, stretch 227 feet long, reach 27 feet high and 29 feet in width, wide enough to take up both lanes of the highway.