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 Tuesday.
“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, threaten tourism, safety and travel in the area. They also expressed concern that the ConocoPhillips loads would serve as a precedent for hundreds of megasized loads that other oil companies, including ExxonMobil, want to send across Idaho in the next year and a half en route to the Alberta oil sands.
Ness said Idaho’s transportation department properly followed its administrative process, all sides received a fair opportunity to present their case, and there were “no compelling reasons” for him to disagree with the state hearing officer’s ruling.
The permits for the ConocoPhillips loads, which consist of two giant coke drums cut in half, will be issued for travel starting on Feb. 1, Ness said, weather permitting.
ConocoPhillips has informed ITD that it will truck the first two loads to Billings, then return the specialized trailers to Lewiston for the second two loads and apply for the final two permits when those are ready to move.
“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.”
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.”