April 27, 2011 in Idaho

Megaload report shows plan for ‘high-load corridor’

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

Lawyers from all sides, including Laird Lucas, second from right, of Advocates for the West, and Larry Allen, right, of the Idaho Transportation Department, confer after the close of testimony Wednesday in the Highway 12 megaloads contested-case hearing; in the background is the hearing officer, retired Idaho District Judge Duff McKee.
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Read the preface here from the 2009 “Validation Module Route Study & Execution Plan” from Mammoet Transportation, which outlines plans for a “high-load corridor” across Idaho’s U.S. Highway 12.

BOISE - A 2009 report from the hauler of more than 200 megaloads of oil equipment proposed for scenic U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho says the project will be a “game changer for Alberta’s oil sands developers,” opening up a “high-load corridor” from Lewiston, Idaho to Alberta, Canada.

The report, which was shown as an exhibit during a contested-case hearing this week on the Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil megaloads plan, was submitted to the Idaho Transportation Department by Mammoet Transportation, the hauler for Imperial/Exxon.

Jeff Stratten, ITD spokesman, said he couldn’t comment on the report during the ongoing hearing. “ITD’s job is to review individual permit requests and determine whether or not those requests meet Idaho and federal law for the use of that highway,” Stratten said. “What I can tell you is we’ve had two companies apply for permits, Conoco and Exxon. To date, three permits have been issued.”

ConocoPhillips applied for permits to haul four megaloads of replacement equipment from the Port of Lewiston, where the loads arrived by barge, to its Billings, Mont., refinery; it got approval, and two have already gone across the twisting route.

Imperial/Exxon wants permits for more than 200 more giant loads of Korean-made equipment it wants to haul from Lewiston, across Montana, and up into Canada for the Alberta oil sands project. So far, it’s been issued one permit, for a “test module” that’s now on the road.

Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West, attorney for the megaloads opponents, who include residents and business owners along the route in Idaho, said he obtained the 2009 report through a public records request to ITD; it was in the files of District 2 maintenance engineer Doral Hoff, who testified Wednesday.

Hoff said he recalled reading the report at some point, but didn’t remember it in detail.

“We’re trying to get to the truth here,” Lucas said after the hearing. “The oil industry and the transport industry want Highway 12 as a high-and-wide industrial corridor. They’ve been working on it for three years.”

Lucas said the loads could have taken other routes, but they’d be longer. “That’s what it’s all about, is a shorter route.”

Hoff and ITD motor vehicle administrator Alan Frew testified Wednesday that the Idaho agency couldn’t consider other possible routes that go outside the state. They also both said the giant loads, which take up both lanes of the two-lane highway, can’t practically be reduced in size - though Imperial/Exxon is currently cutting 33 of them in half so they can travel from Lewiston up Highway 95 through Moscow and Coeur d’Alene.

“It is impractical to reduce them further than what they already had been produced at,” Frew said. “It takes a bunch of man hours, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of added equipment, and much, much more added cost.”

After the hearing, Lucas said, “I feel like I’m in Alice in Wonderland, with the queen telling me ‘words mean what I say they mean, nothing more and nothing less.’ It’s not practical - but that’s what they’re doing. They’re doing it now.”

The hearing is expected to continue all week and into next week.

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