After longer-than-expected delays on U.S. Highway 12 and opposition from area residents, huge oil equipment shipments traveling to Canada could be cut down in size and sent through Coeur d’Alene, possibly beginning by the end of the month.
In a presentation to the Coeur d’Alene City Council Tuesday night, an Idaho Transportation Department official said the proposed loads are a smaller version of the megaloads that began heading up the snaking, scenic Highway 12.
According to Terry Harris, executive director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, who attended the meeting, the new, cut-down loads will be 24 feet wide and 208 feet long and will still take up two traffic lanes.
Those dimensions didn’t faze everyone Tuesday night.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve seen large loads similar to that go through here before,” said Councilwoman Deanna Good-lander. “These aren’t the huge loads that are going through Highway 12.”
Imperial Oil, a Canadian affiliate of ExxonMobil, is cutting the loads down in height in Lewiston so they can travel on U.S. Highway 95 through Moscow and Coeur d’Alene, onto Interstate 90, into Montana, and eventually to Canada.
In Coeur d’Alene, the loads will take a sharp turn from Highway 95 onto Lincoln Way, and from Lincoln to Interstate 90. The oil equipment was fabricated in Korea, brought up the Columbia and Snake rivers by barge to the Port of Lewiston, and is being trucked to an oil sands project in Alberta. The plan calls for the loads to travel at night.
Harris said among other concerns, he is worried whether the loads’ shipment will go as engineers plan.
“When they sent the megaloads from Lewiston up the Highway 12 corridor toward Montana, they had a permit so that they wouldn’t block traffic for more than 15 minutes,” Harris said. “On several occasions, they blocked traffic for 59 minutes, close to an hour. They knocked out power to a couple towns. They scraped against a big rock wall trying to make a turn.”
“It was pretty clear they didn’t do their homework for that corridor, and so now they’re going to try this one, I guess,” he said.
Councilman Mike Kennedy said while he needs to gather more information on the plan, he has some concerns about what might happen if the loads get stuck negotiating the tight turns at the height of Coeur d’Alene’s tourism season and near Kootenai Medical Center. He wants to be sure the city is prepared for any possible scenario, he said.
“Ninety-five is our north-south lifeline, so there needs to be a serious look at all of the issues surrounding it,” he said. “I don’t know enough about their disaster plan, frankly.”
However, he said, “Unfortunately, I don’t think the city has any control in this process. It’s a state road going to a federal road, so we don’t have full control over either of those.”
The plan to move the megaloads over Highway 12 was the subject of a hearing this spring in Boise. A ruling is expected later this month. While it’s not clear if ITD is preparing Coeur d’Alene for the possibility of changing the route, in advance of that ruling, Harris and Kennedy got the impression the new route was a done deal.
The state has not issued permits for the Highway 95 proposal. Transportation officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Idaho Transportation Department officials said in an April case hearing that cutting down the loads was expensive and impractical and that Highway 12 was the preferred route.