Idaho officials are crippling their credibility with ad-hoc rulings that allow scenic U.S. Highway 12 to be used as a long-term pathway for megaloads headed for Canada.
A process that started in relative secrecy and bypassed public input is now plagued by inconsistent and, perhaps, disingenuous rationales in response to shifting circumstances.
The latest development: State troopers will no longer be required to escort these rolling roadblocks as they make multiday journeys from the Port of Lewiston to the top of Lolo Pass. Nickels Bros. is hauling nine oversized loads of evaporator equipment to a Weyerhaeuser Co. pulp mill in northern Alberta. The first load arrived unescorted Monday at the Montana border.
Previously, private companies were required to pay for trooper escorts for public safety purposes, but Idaho State Police said troopers weren’t available this time. Not to worry, said the Idaho Transportation Department, because it determined that this requirement was no longer needed. That seems awfully convenient.
This rationale continues a pattern of mind-changing that seems to always work in favor of keeping that route open.
When Idaho officials pondered previous megaloads traversing U.S. 12, they told concerned parties that each decision would have no bearing on future shipments. When opponents called for hearings on the Weyerhaeuser shipments, ITD told them that the substantive issues had already been settled. So, in essence, the previous rulings did establish precedents. If the department had held a hearing, it could’ve explained why it was dropping the trooper-escort requirement.
Initially, the public was told that megaloads headed for the tar sands project in Canada could not be dismantled. But as the delays mounted, many loads were broken down into smaller units and transported up U.S. 95 and across Interstate 90. After that, smaller loads were trucked from the Tri-Cities on U.S. 395 to I-90 without incident.
As transporters have already demonstrated, smaller loads – though by no means small – can be moved over highways that are engineered to handle substantial width and weight. This would appear to be the best solution for now, though ExxonMobil still faces a roadblock in Montana, where a judge has ordered its loads off the highways because of environmental concerns.
Meanwhile, Idaho officials have yet to demonstrate how the public benefits from allowing the considerable disruption – and possible despoiling – of a scenic byway when an alternative exists.
Private companies can’t be faulted for trying to find the cheapest route for their special equipment, but until Idaho officials make a more compelling and consistent case, the public should question why they’re being so accommodating.