BOISE – The first oversized load hauled by the Nickel Bros. on scenic Highway 12 in north-central Idaho traveled without any state police escorts, and the Idaho Transportation Department now says it won’t require police escorts for the company’s eight remaining oversized transports.
Idaho State Police troopers traveling in front of and behind each load were required in previous permits issued for megaloads on Highway 12; the companies paid for the troopers’ overtime.
Nickel Bros. is hauling nine loads of evaporator equipment to a Weyerhaeuser pulp mill in northern Alberta; the first of the loads crossed into Montana late Monday.
“It was determined an ISP escort was not available, and upon reflection determined not to be necessary,” said Transportation Department spokesman Adam Rush. Instead, he said, emergency radio coordination was delegated to an emergency medical technician traveling with the shipments.
Opponents of the giant transports on the narrow, winding road are steamed at the change. They say the state trooper escorts have been described all along as key to safe transport of the loads, which are wide enough to block both lanes of travel, creating a rolling roadblock.
“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 and leading opponent of the giant transports.
The biggest proposal for megaloads on the route comes from Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil, which wants to run more than 200 loads of Korean-made oil field equipment headed for Alberta over Highway 12 to Montana, then north to Canada. Exxon has run only one load so far, a test module designed to match the tallest, widest, longest and heaviest of its loads; it was as tall as a three-story building.
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 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 fight the Nickel Bros. loads, said his group’s petition was rejected on the basis that earlier Exxon hearings 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., said the company was 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.”