March 22, 2011 in Idaho

Megaload suit bill heads to Senate

By The Spokesman-Review

BOISE – The Idaho Legislature is moving to block citizen lawsuits over 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 state Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, who is sponsoring House Bill 193. The measure 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 megaloads of oil equipment along scenic U.S. 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. 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 voted 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.

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

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