September 27, 2011 in Idaho

ITD drops police escort rule for megaloads

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – The first Nickel Bros. megaload on scenic Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, which crossed into Montana late Monday night, traveled without any state police escorts – and the Idaho Transportation Department now says it won’t require the police escorts for any of the company’s eight remaining oversized transports on the route.

Idaho State Police troopers traveling both in front and in back of each load were key points of previous permits issued for megaloads on Highway 12; the companies paid for the troopers’ overtime.

Idaho Transportation Department spokesman Adam Rush said, “It was determined an ISP escort was not available, and upon reflection determined not to be necessary.” Instead, he said, emergency radio coordination was delegated to an emergency medical technician traveling with the shipments.

Opponents of the giant equipment transports on the route are steamed at the change, and say the state trooper escorts for the oversize loads – which are wide enough to block both lanes of travel, creating a rolling roadblock – have been described all along as key to safe transport of the big loads on the narrow, winding highway.

“To us this is a major concern of public safety and it’s a major violation of what ITD and ISP has consistently told the public for 15 months,” said Linwood Laughy, a Highway 12 resident who’s been a leading opponent of the giant transports.

The biggest proposal for megaloads on the route comes from Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil, which wants to run more than 200 loads of Korean-made oil field equipment headed for the Alberta oil sands over Highway 12 to Montana, then north to Canada. Exxon has run only one of those loads so far, a test module designed to match the tallest, widest, longest and heaviest of its loads.

In April, that test load struck a guy wire for a utility line on its first night of travel, knocking out power to two Idaho towns and leading to a delay of more than two weeks.

Rush said the ISP troopers played an important traffic-control role when the route was closed in that incident, but he said Idaho Transportation Department workers have authority to close roads in emergencies even without police present.

Gary MacFarlane of Friends of the Clearwater, a Moscow conservation group that unsuccessfully tried to contest the Nickel Bros. loads, said his group’s petition was rejected on the basis that earlier hearings on the Exxon loads had settled all the issues regarding megaload transports on Highway 12. But those hearings included assurances of police escorts, he said.

“Obviously we’re looking into that from a legal perspective, there’s no question about that,” MacFarlane said. “Is it a shell game or a bait and switch, or some of both? It’s not being honest with the citizens or with the public.”

Jeff McCord, spokesman for Nickel Bros., which is hauling the nine big loads of evaporator equipment to a Weyerhaeuser pulp mill in northern Alberta, said the firm was perfectly willing to pay for the ISP escorts, but they weren’t available. “They were worried about their own resources,” he said. “We want to be in complete compliance, no matter what the requirements are.”

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