January 18, 2011 in Idaho

ITD to let Conoco megaloads roll Feb. 1

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE - Idaho will let four ConocoPhillips megaloads of oil equipment start traveling U.S. Highway 12 on Feb. 1, Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness announced today.

“I am convinced the record showed the loads can be moved safely, without damage to the roads and bridges and with minimal disruption to traffic and emergency services,” Ness said. “Every argument has been heard and considered. We can no longer delay this process.”

Ness sided with a state hearing officer who backed the loads after a day and a half of testimony and arguments last month.

Opponents, including residents and businesses along the scenic route in north-central Idaho, said the extra-large loads, which will take up both lanes of the twisting, two-lane road, threatened tourism, safety and travel in the area. They also expressed concern that the Conoco loads would serve as a precedent for hundreds more mega-sized loads that other oil companies want to send across Idaho en route to the Alberta oil sands.

Ness said in a news release that he based his decision on four key factors:

- Administrative process was properly followed

- All sides received a fair opportunity to present their case

- An independent hearing officer recommended the permits be issued

- No compelling reasons were found in the interveners’ appeal to overturn the hearing officer’s recommendation

“I will not comment further on this case because litigation is possible and the similarities because of the pending request from Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil to transport oversized loads on U.S. 12,” Ness said.

The permits for the ConocoPhillips loads, which consist of two giant coker drums cut in half, will be issued for travel starting on Monday, Ness said, weather permitting. The first two loads can begin traveling then. ConocoPhillips has informed ITD that it will truck those loads to Billings, then return the specialized trailers back to Lewiston for the second two loads and apply for the final two permits when those are ready to move.

The opponents, led by Highway 12 residents Borg Hendrickson and Linwood Laughy, said in a statement that they’ll confer with their lawyers on their next step.

“The 13 contested case intervenors are pleased that during the past 10 months the citizens of Idaho have had an opportunity to peel back the hidden layers of state agency decision-making and to learn more about what their state government has been planning for the Clearwater Valley and Highway 12,” they said. “We are saddened by the fact that the thousands of Idahoans who oppose the megaloads are having to work so hard to have one of their own state agencies hear them. Citizens’ right to question decisions made by state agencies is central to our democratic form of government.”

ITD initially announced today that the loads would start rolling on Monday, but then determined that ConocoPhillips wouldn’t be ready until Feb. 1, so the agency changed the permit date.

“We’re very pleased that the director of ITD issued the final order,” said John Roper, the company’s spokesman. “ConocoPhillips will proceed with its plans in accordance with the permits and we will provide updates on the status of the shipments as they proceed.”


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