An Idaho judge on Tuesday revoked special permits allowing a company to truck four oversize loads of oil refinery equipment through a federally protected river corridor, saying the state failed to address public concerns and violated its own regulations in approving them.
Judge John Bradbury ordered the Idaho Transportation Department to review the request from ConocoPhillips again and to take action to ensure the safety and convenience of the public.
Even with new permits, the move likely means the giant shipments couldn’t start before October, though the equipment has been sitting at the Port of Lewiston since May. Idaho’s permits would have allowed the shipments to start only if Montana also issued permits to move the oversize loads beyond the Montana line at Lolo Pass; it hasn’t yet done so. Also, the company had been hoping to move its big loads past the Arrow Bridge on U.S. Highway 12 during a brief window between completion of the paving of one lane of the bridge deck, and the start of paving of the other, since the loads will take up both lanes.
ITD had no immediate comment on the judge’s ruling, which came late Tuesday; it will review the ruling this morning.
Last week, Bradbury put a temporary halt to the oil company’s plans to ship the massive coke drums along the 175-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho.
In his ruling Tuesday, he criticized the Transportation Department’s review of the permit application. The state, he wrote, did not “address the ‘inevitable’ accident or breakdown that could shut down Highway 12 for days or weeks.”
He also criticized the permits for allowing the big trucks to move aside only every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass, instead of every 10 minutes as required by law.
Critics of the plan 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 trucks would roll along a highway that parallels the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers.
Laird Lucas, an attorney for Boise-based Advocates for the West, which represented the residents for free, said the judge was correct to question the impact the shipments would have on public safety and convenience as well as their necessity.
Three river canyon residents and business owners sued last week to block the shipments. The ConocoPhillips shipments are the first oversize loads planned for the corridor. Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil is proposing to haul more than 200 loads of heavy oil machinery from Lewiston along Highway 12 into Montana, then north to Alberta, starting in November.
The ExxonMobil loads would weigh more than 300 tons, stretch up to 227 feet long and reach up to 27 feet high. Half would be up to 29 feet wide – wide enough to take up both lanes of the highway. Trucks would move only at night and pull over in newly designed turnouts during the day; Imperial/ExxonMobil already has spent $440,000 on improving turnouts along the route.
State officials say the loads proposed by the oil companies will be offset by the trailers’ bigger tires and extra axles, creating no more stress on the road than logging trucks or other commercial haulers.