The Idaho Transportation Department issued permits Wednesday for the first mega-loads proposed for U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, but the four giant truckloads won’t roll just yet.
The agency said it is suspending the shipments until after a hearing officer rules on a petition for intervention and hearings by residents and businesses along the route – a petition that is being vigorously opposed by ConocoPhillips, which wants to send the big loads of oil refinery equipment through Idaho to its refinery in Billings. The truckloads are so large they’ll take up both lanes of the two-lane highway, a designated scenic byway that runs along the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers.
Late Tuesday, ConocoPhillips filed a legal brief with ITD arguing against allowing anyone to intervene in the case and in favor of letting the company go ahead with the shipments. The four giant loads of oil refinery equipment already are at the Port of Lewiston. The Lewiston Tribune reported Tuesday that the first two loads already have been attached to semi-trailers.
Conoco spokesman John Roper said Wednesday, “We did get some stuff prepped” as a “prudent business decision.” He said, “If we can get them rolling, we want to.”
The previous permits ITD issued for the four Conoco mega-loads were good only for five days; a judge revoked them after residents and business owners along the route sued, but that ruling was overturned by the Idaho Supreme Court, which said the courts lacked jurisdiction in the case at that point.
ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten wasn’t sure how long the new permits issued Wednesday will be valid, given the suspension.
Laird Lucas, attorney for the residents and businesses that sued, said attorney Merlyn Clark has been appointed as the hearing officer and a briefing schedule will be set on Friday.
“We’re very encouraged that ITD is staying the permits,” Lucas said Wednesday. “There’s been a flurry of activity, and Conoco, I think, was expecting to be able to throw its weight around and get those shipments out of the Port of Lewiston tonight.” Lucas said he was encouraged that didn’t happen. “The public is entitled to a full and fair hearing,” he said.
In a news release issued late Wednesday afternoon, ITD said, “The permits were issued to Emmert International, the contract hauler for ConocoPhillips. ITD’s Motor Vehicle Administrator Alan Frew said the loads meet the state’s legal requirements for an over-legal permit. In the judgment of ITD’s professional staff, Frew said, the loads can be transported safely, without risk to the highways and bridges, with minimal delay to traffic and without disruption to emergency services.”