BOISE – More than 200 megaloads of Korean-made oil equipment bound for Canada should be given the go-ahead to roll across northern Idaho’s scenic U.S. Highway 12, an Idaho state hearing officer ruled Monday.
Retired state Judge Duff McKee, in a 63-page ruling, discounted every protest against the megaloads from a group of residents and business owners along the twisting, two-lane highway, from safety to business interruptions to environmental harm. His ruling is a recommendation to the Idaho Transportation Department. Opponents still could ask for reconsideration, a process that could take weeks more.
“I conclude there was no error in procedure on the part of ITD in the issuance of the permit in this case, or any other basis to interfere with the executive determinations of the department in issuing the permits in this case,” McKee wrote in his ruling.
Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil wants to truck more than 200 giant loads of oil field equipment across the Idaho highway, en route from the Port of Lewiston to the Alberta oil sands. The loads are so large that they’ll take up both lanes of the two-lane road, creating a rolling roadblock.
All parties to the dispute now have 14 days to file a motion for reconsideration of the hearing officer’s recommendation, according to ITD, which the hearing officer would then have approximately 21 days to rule on. The parties could then appeal the ruling to ITD Director Brian Ness, who would have 56 days to rule on the appeal.
After that process is complete, or if no appeal is filed, ITD said, Ness will accept, reject or modify the ruling.
“Obviously we’re disappointed, but we think the hearing officer misunderstood some of the facts and the evidence,” said Laird Lucas, attorney for the opponents. “I need to confer with my clients, but I think there’s a likelihood we’ll be filing a motion for reconsideration.”
A business group dubbed “Drive Our Economy” that’s been pushing for approval of the loads derided the opponents in a statement issued late Monday. “Environmental activists have claimed for months that their opposition was rooted in protecting the communities of Highway 12. But as they continue their opposition in communities like Moscow and Coeur d’Alene, it becomes increasingly clear that their only goal is to stop the shipments altogether – regardless of their routing.” said Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. “They do not care about Idaho jobs and commerce, or the best interest of our communities.”
Imperial/Exxon has cut down some of the loads in Lewiston to half-height, which would allow them to travel up U.S. Highway 95 through Moscow to Coeur d’Alene, then take I-90 to Montana and Canada. Though ITD agreed to issue permits for those reduced-size loads starting Monday, none has yet moved and none is expected to any time soon.
Imperial/Exxon has maintained throughout the process that Highway 12 is its preferred route.
McKee noted in his ruling that Highway 12 is “a narrow, winding mountain road, barely 25 feet wide in many places, with sheer rock faces on one side and steep banks to the river on the other.” He noted that it’s a designated scenic byway and wrote, “By anyone’s definition, it is a spectacular example of Idaho’s majesty.”
But, he wrote, “It is also a part of the federal highway system and is a significant commercial thoroughfare.”
McKee concluded that the giant loads, which would travel only late at night, would cause no more damage or disruption on the route than regular commercial trucks, given plans to pull the loads off at turnouts to allow traffic to pass every 15 minutes.
McKee wrote that opponents are essentially offering a “not in my backyard” argument.
The Imperial/Exxon plan still awaits a court ruling in Montana, where plans to build additional turnouts to accommodate the big loads on that state’s portion of the route are being challenged in court.