March 21, 2011 in Idaho

Idaho House moves to block anti-megaload lawsuits

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

Parked between the Clearwater River and U.S. Highway 12 at Kooskia, Idaho, on Feb. 3, the first megaload of a ConocoPhillips half-drum awaits the next leg of its journey to Billings.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - The Idaho Legislature is moving to block citizen lawsuits over giant megaloads on the state’s highways, with legislation clearing the House Monday to require a big up-front cash bond from anyone filing such a lawsuit.

” I think it will stop frivolous lawsuits,” said Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, sponsor of the bill. HB 193 would require anyone suing over a transportation project on Idaho roads to first post a bond equal to 5 percent of the insured value of the load. Harwood said his bill was prompted by the controversial hauling of giant megaloads of oil equipment on Highway 12, to which local residents and businesses along the route have objected.

Harwood said he included an emergency clause to block more lawsuits over upcoming megaloads; ConocoPhillips has hauled two giant truckloads across the twisting, two-lane highway, taking up both its lanes; ExxonMobil plans more than 200 over the next year.

“The emergency clause was put in there because we felt that there was going to be more lawsuits coming, and we felt that we needed to get this done,” Harwood told the House.

Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “We have a number of frivolous lawsuits now that cost our state money, that don’t accomplish very much but delay our economic growth and viability.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, objected. “How are these individuals going to come up with the amount of money that is going to be necessary, which could be considerable amounts of money?” she asked. “To me, it puts in place sort of a David and Goliath situation.”

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said, “I think the people that live on Highway 12 and the people that recreate on Highway 12, including the outfitters and guides, have a huge financial stake in this process. For that reason, I think there needs to be an open public process.”

The House vote 53-16 in favor of the bill, which now moves to the Senate. All 13 of the House’s minority Democrats voted against the bill; they were joined by three Republicans, Reps. Tom Trail of Moscow, Leon Smith of Twin Falls, who is the House Transportation chairman, and Lynn Luker of Boise.

Trail said the state’s current permit fees for giant megaloads don’t cover all its costs to process the permits. “So each one of those loads that goes over Highway 12 is partially subsidized by the Idaho taxpayers,” he said. “This legislation is very discriminatory against individuals and businesses along routes like this, as well as other citizens, who might have a legitimate gripe that they want to bring to the legal process.”

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “You need to cut to the chase. If we’re going to improve (and) retain what economy we have in this state, we need to get equipment from here to there, we need production. And in order to facilitate that, we need this lawsuit issue resolved. This bill does that. You may not like it, but it’s necessary.”

A week and a half ago, Idaho Rivers United filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ExxonMobil megaload permits.


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