BOISE – Idaho Supreme Court justices had lots of questions today as they heard arguments on whether the Idaho Transportation Department violated its own regulations in approving permits for four giant truckloads of oil equipment to travel a scenic highway from Idaho to Montana.
Idaho District Judge John Bradbury last month ruled to revoke the permits in favor of a group of residents and businesses along the route, prompting ITD and ConocoPhillips to appeal to the high court.
The court took the case under advisement this morning after an hour of arguments; it’ll issue its decision later in writing.
Several justices questioned why ConocoPhillips moved its Japan-made coke drums to the Port of Lewiston in May, if no permit had been approved to truck them over Highway 12 to Billings.
Justice Jim Jones questioned whether the department really understood it could deny the permit. The transportation department’s attorneys said they “absolutely” did.
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.
Among the issues raised by the justices was whether ITD is bound by its rule that traffic can’t be blocked by an oversize load for more than 10 minutes. Chief Justice Daniel Eismann indicated he agreed with ITD’s argument that the 10-minute rule doesn’t apply if there’s “frequent” passing allowed under a traffic plan, but Laird Lucas, the attorney for the residents, argued that the rule is meaningless if “frequent” is defined as less often than every 10 minutes.
Justice Jim Jones said, “I think the issue of the 10-minute rule and all that stuff is pretty much cut and dried.”
Linwood Laughy, the lead plaintiff and a longtime Highway 12 resident, said, “Basically this is skirmish No. 2. This issue is not in all likelihood going to be settled by this court decision, whichever way it goes.”
The four ConocoPhillips loads are just the first of more than 200 giant loads proposed over the next year. ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil is working on plans for a year’s worth of nighttime shipments along the route starting in November, bound for its oil sands project in Canada. Montana still hasn’t issued permits for either company.
Laughy said for residents and businesses along the route, “The real issue is whether we’re going to convert U.S. 12 into a permanent high-and-wide corridor for the transportation of high-and-wide loads.”
Lucas echoed the justices’ questions about why ConocoPhillips moved its oversize equipment from Japan to Lewiston if it wasn’t assured of getting permits for the loads, which are so wide they’ll block both lanes of the two-lane roadway. “They made a multimillion-dollar gamble that they would get the permit,” he said. “It’s my guess it wasn’t a gamble.”
ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten said, “We believe we made a strong argument demonstrating the department acted appropriately, within its own rules and the laws of the state.”