BOISE – A hearing officer recommended Tuesday that the Idaho Transportation Department issue four permits to allow ConocoPhillips to ship oversized oil-refinery equipment from Idaho to Montana.
In his 57-page recommendation, Boise attorney Merlyn Clark said evidence shows the four loads can be transported safely and with minimum inconvenience to the general public along north-central Idaho’s U.S. Highway 12, which parallels the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers.
He said foes of the shipments provided no “reliable evidence” that the loads would damage tourism, hurt the highway’s scenic values or hamper businesses in the mountainous region, as they had argued at hearings this month.
“The evidence … clearly establishes that ITD performed its duties and exercised its discretion in processing the application,” Clark wrote. “ITD should issue the overlegal permits to allow (ConocoPhillips) to transport four oversize loads of equipment from Lewiston, Idaho, to the Montana border over U.S. Highway 12.”
Clark’s recommendation won’t become final until it’s acted on by the Transportation Department.
Transportation Department director Brian Ness said he’ll take the recommendation under advisement.
“There is no schedule for Ness’ decision,” said ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten.
ConocoPhillips said in a statement that it was pleased with Clark’s recommendation, saying it shows the oil company and state have a comprehensive plan to ship the big coke drums.
“We will soon put our plan into action, and we look forward to delivering the equipment to Billings safely so we can complete our important refinery maintenance plan,” said Steve Steach, manager of ConocoPhillips’ Billings Refinery, where the coke drums are bound.
Meanwhile, environmentalists and residents who object to the shipments said they were “disappointed and are evaluating their next steps.” They have until mid-January to lodge an appeal.
They’ve argued the huge loads, which will travel at very slow speeds along a route near where explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled in the early 19th century, present a threat to tourism, public safety and convenience and could harm the pristine rivers along the proposed route. The giant loads would block both lanes of the two-lane highway as they travel.
They said the decision issued by Clark on Tuesday doesn’t cover separate plans of Imperial Oil, a unit of Exxon Mobil Corp., to truck more than 200 loads of oil equipment from Lewiston to the tar sands of northern Alberta along U.S. 12.
Other companies are planning additional shipments of equipment to Canada, too, as exploitation of the oil-rich tar sands accelerates.
“The impacts of the 207 shipments, night after night for nearly a year, are a whole other story, as are the many more shipments likely to follow,” Linwood Laughy, a U.S. Highway 12 resident who sued to block the mega-loads, said in a statement. “We do intend to continue our role of keeping people informed of the issues involved with the mega-loads.”