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Oil lawyers cite historic trading trek

BOISE – A big oil company is invoking the spirit of famed explorers Lewis and Clark to help make its case before the Idaho Supreme Court to ship four oversize loads of refinery equipment along an Idaho highway.

Lawyers for ConocoPhillips cite the Corps of Discovery and its mission of finding a northwest passage in their legal fight to overturn a state judge’s ruling blocking the shipments from Lewiston to its refinery in Billings.

Last month, 2nd District Judge John Bradbury revoked travel permits issued by the Idaho Department of Transportation after finding the agency failed to adequately consider the impact the shipments would have on public safety and convenience.

The company wants to haul the massive equipment along U.S. Highway 12, a curvy, two-lane roadway that passes through a protected river corridor and covers some of the same ground trekked more than 200 years ago by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and crew.

ConocoPhillips attorneys said one goal of the expedition was to find a water passage across the Northern Rockies to aid American commerce. Using the roadway to assist modern-day commerce is consistent with those historic principles, they said.

The Lewis and Clark reference is a tiny piece of the argument the company is making to the Idaho Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Oct. 1.

Laird Lucas, the attorney for opponents of the shipments, said it’s absurd to link modern-day shipping to the historic, commercial intentions of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

“This claim underscores that Big Oil will take any step it can to suppress the individuals and business owners who are concerned about what is happening to their local communities,” Lucas said.

ConocoPhillips’ loads would consume both lanes of the highway. Trucks would run between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. and pull over at 78 turnouts along the route to let traffic pass.

ConocoPhillips is asking the court to overturn the lower court and allow the state to issue travel permits.