BOISE – State records show that Idaho’s top three elected officials signed off in June 2009 on a plan to have ExxonMobil pay state patrol officers to accompany oversize truckloads of oil refinery equipment as they traveled scenic U.S. Highway 12 in North Idaho.
That was a year before three public meetings were held in north-central Idaho about the controversial project, which has drawn hundreds of objections and is currently the topic of a lawsuit pending at the Idaho Supreme Court.
In a memo dated June 1, 2009, Idaho State Police Director Col. Jerry Russell asked the state Board of Examiners to approve the overtime plan for officers.
“Exxon Oil Co. is starting a new refinery in Canada,” the memo stated. “The refinery parts are being barged into Lewiston starting in 2010 and will be trucked up U.S. 12 and eventually into Canada with over 150 loads of a special semi-truck/trailer combination that is 150 feet long and 24 feet wide.”
The memo said, “The shipping company, Mammoetm, has contacted ISP and requested we escort these loads up U.S. 12 and is willing to pay for our services.”
Russell said ISP knew the project was in its early planning stages. “What we were doing is just making sure, through the Board of Examiners, that we could even do it before we started talking and working with them on it,” he said.
The Board of Examiners, which consists of the governor, the secretary of state and the attorney general, with the state controller as nonvoting secretary, voted unanimously to approve the request at its June 16, 2009, meeting as part of its consent agenda. Then, in March 2010, it approved a similar request from ISP regarding four similar-sized loads of oil refinery equipment that ConocoPhillips plans to ship across the route to Billings this year.
Those four loads are the subject of the current lawsuit. The Idaho Transportation Department issued permits for the loads, but a judge revoked them, saying the department violated its own regulations in approving truckloads so large they’ll block both lanes of the two-lane route, without adequately addressing concerns ranging from impacts on residents and businesses to emergency plans.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said the item received little attention from a board that approves various overtime payments and other state expenditures.
“I have no idea why we got going so early,” he said. “I really don’t have a lot of knowledge about it to say much, other than certain projects we pre-approve for overtime for state police, and that’s what we did here.”
The agenda in 2009 showed only that the item would make two changes in a list of grants, projects and agreements for overtime at ISP, removing a Special Olympics event and adding “Mammoetm (Exxon Oil).”
“Knowing now what happened then, maybe there would’ve been more discussion about it, but it wasn’t even on our radar screen back then,” Ysursa said.
The March agenda said the item would “add Emmert International to the already approved list of grants, projects, and agreements for overtime shifts.” Emmert is the trucking company working with ConocoPhillips.
The ISP signed a contract with Emmert in March, but it expired at the end of July. It then signed a new contract in August, calling for Emmert to pay ISP up to $41,000 for its officers’ overtime and travel costs to accompany the big loads.
Russell, of the ISP, said the patrol “looked at this as far as two things: No. 1, ensuring the public’s safety … and No. 2, doing it in such a way that we could take and limit the financial impact on the citizens of the state of Idaho. It seemed to make not only good traffic safety sense, but also good business sense that the companies that were taking and bringing those loads through should bear the cost of those services.”
ISP first was contacted about the Exxon loads in April 2009, and the ConocoPhillips loads in November 2009.
The Idaho Transportation Department, which issues the permits for such oversize loads, was first contacted by ConocoPhillips about the project in a July 2007 phone call and had its first meeting with ExxonMobil in October 2008.
Jeff Stratten, ITD spokesman, said Idaho requires no public hearings or meetings for oversize load permits, but decided to hold them this year on the ExxonMobil plan “because of the size, the extent of their request.”
ExxonMobil is proposing to send 207 mega-loads over the route starting in November. The transports, which would take place at night, would be completed in a year.
“It needed much more transparency and debate,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, an opponent of the project. “They’ve known about this for a long time, and the fact that they haven’t talked about it is troublesome.”