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ISP: ‘Intel’ suggests ‘threats’ to megaloads

Idaho State Police Capt. Lonnie Richardson testifies Friday that ISP has "intel" about "threats" against megaloads on U.S. Highway 12. (Betsy Russell)
Idaho State Police Capt. Lonnie Richardson testifies Friday that ISP has "intel" about "threats" against megaloads on U.S. Highway 12. (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - The Idaho State Police has received “intel” about people possibly wanting to disrupt megaload shipments on U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, an ISP official told a state hearing officer Friday.

ISP Capt. Lonnie Richardson said the police agency’s received information about “people who may want to interfere with the loads.” He said, “There are organizations who would like to disrupt the movement of the load either by means of personnel or more severe.”

Richardson declined to provide more information, saying the intelligence was “confidential information.” He said, “There have been threats,” and said, “Everybody has got a different definition of terrorism.”

Margaret Ross, a spokeswoman for ExxonMobil, which is proposing the giant shipments, said, “I don’t have any information about that. … I hadn’t heard it before.”

Opponents of the giant loads, which would take up both lanes of the twisting, two-lane scenic highway between Lewiston and the Montana state line, scoffed at the reports and suggested ISP was overreacting to local residents who tried to monitor the three megaload shipments that already have taken place.

Richardson was called to testify in the contested-case hearing over the Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil loads - the company has proposed more than 200 of the giant loads over the next year and a half - by attorneys for megaloads opponents, who had questions about state police escorts for the big loads.

He testified that ISP has agreed to provide one to four officers per load to escort the shipments across Highway 12. The troopers who are escorting the megaloads aren’t off-duty, he said. “The technical term is on-duty officers on overtime,” Richardson said. “If our officer is in uniform, working in a car, he’s not considered off-duty.”

That’s despite the fact that Mammoet Transportation, the hauling firm for Imperial/Exxon, is paying for the officers’ overtime; it pays ISP, and ISP pays the officers. “They are on duty,” Richardson said. The extra work is voluntary for the officers, he said.

There are only 17 ISP trooper positions in the five-county region; two of those are currently vacant and a third officer is deployed to Iraq on military service.

Earlier in the hearing, which has been running all week in Boise and will continue on Monday, there was testimony that up to three loads could be on the highway at any one time as Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil moves its proposed loads from the Port of Lewistion to the Alberta oil sands project in Canada, but Richardson said he thought there’d only be one at a time. If there were three, he said, “we could not do four (officers) per load.”

Karen “Borg” Hendrickson, a Highway 12 resident and one of the leading opponents of the loads, was listening in the audience as Richardson testified. “I was astonished,” she said. “All of the monitors are just ordinary north-central Idaho citizens. I mean, the assumption that anyone among us is a terrorist is just astonishing.”

Hendrickson said three to four dozen area residents have organized to monitor the loads, attempting to follow them on assigned segments. However, the traffic plan for the loads calls for following traffic to pass at designated points, so the monitors have had to double back.

Richardson said police escorts have taken license plate numbers and made inquiries only of people who repeatedly passed the loads.

Vickie Garcia, one of the monitors who testified on Thursday, said state troopers told her she couldn’t travel back and forth more than one time while the megaloads were en route, and she questioned such restrictions on area citizens.

“I have it on video,” Garcia said.