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Six months later, Conoco megaloads have now arrived in Billings

The final ConocoPhillips megaload to travel across U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho has arrived at its destination in Billings, many months after it was expected. To transport a Japanese-made replacement coker drum to its Billings refinery from the Port of Lewiston, ConocoPhillips had it cut into four giant megaloads each 26 feet high, 29 feet wide, and weighing 350 tons; the first one left Lewiston on Feb. 1, anticipating a 25-day trip. It and the second one arrived in Billings 64 days later. The third and fourth loads left Lewiston in early May, anticipating a June 8 arrival in Billings; instead, they got there today, Aug. 3rd.

Among the obstacles they faced along the way: weather delays, court challenges, detours and delays in Montana due to spring flooding and washouts, and more. The Conoco loads are just the prelude to the much bigger proposal from Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil to ship 200-plus megaloads of oil equipment across scenic Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana, then north to the Alberta oil sands; permitting delays and court challenges have slowed those, and so far, Imperial/Exxon has sent several of its huge loads north from Lewiston via a different route, up Highway 95 through Moscow to Coeur d'Alene, then on the freeway into Montana and up to Canada.

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The final two huge shipments of equipment for the ConocoPhillips refinery have arrived in Billings despite several court cases, some protests and weather delays. The two halves of the second coker drum stopped along Montana Highway 3 early Wednesday and were scheduled to be moved to the refinery overnight. The first two so-called megaloads arrived in Billings in early April as part of a refinery upgrade. The coker applies heat and pressure to heavier, less valuable components of crude oil, converting them into more useful products. The drums traveled from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho to Montana, mostly on two-lane roads. Conservation groups sought to stop the loads, saying they threatened tourism, public safety and pristine waters along the route. Refinery manager Steven Steach said he's relieved the coker drums have finally arrived.

4th Conoco megaload reaches Montana; 3 megaloads now parked at Lolo

The fourth and last ConocoPhillips megaload has arrived at the Montana line, and is now parked at Lolo Hot Springs, the Idaho Transportation Department announced this morning. That means three - count 'em, three - giant megaloads are now parked at the hot springs resort at the top of Lolo Pass: The two from ConocoPhillips, and the ExxonMobil “test validation module,” which is stopped there awaiting further go-aheads from the state of Montana, which has a court hearing today on a possible injunction against road work to allow that module to proceed.

The final Conoco load, taking equipment to the company's Billings, Mont. refinery, left milepost 169 on U.S. Highway 12 in Idaho at 10:01 p.m. Sunday, and reached the top of Lolo Pass at 10:48 p.m. It crossed into Montana at 11:06 p.m., ITD reported, following a revised transportation plan for the Conoco loads that allows six days to travel from Lewiston to the Montana line. The third Conoco load was at Lolo Hot Springs waiting for it, where it's been since May 6th. “Montana is allowing them to travel in a convoy fashion,” two at a time, said ITD spokesman Adam Rush. “We've asked them on our side to create space between them.” The fourth Conoco load left Lewiston on May 10th. The ExxonMobil test megaload has been sitting at Lolo Hot Springs, on private property, since May 4th.

“We're all there ready to go,” said Mark Hefty, spokesman for Emmert International, the hauler for the ConocoPhillips loads. Asked if there's enough space for all three giant loads in the same area, Hefty said, “There has to be, otherwise the states wouldn't allow us to stop. I don't think we're all right there on top of each other. I think we're close but not exactly the same place.” The two Conoco loads are scheduled to start moving into Montana tonight shortly after midnight, and arrive in Billings around June 8.

Third Conoco megaload to hit road tomorrow

The third ConocoPhillips megaload is scheduled to leave Lewiston on Saturday and head across U.S. Highway 12 en route to Billings, Mont., the Idaho Transportation Department announced today. This comes as an Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil megaload remains parked 5 miles this side of the Montana border, awaiting better weather to travel. ConocoPhillips got approval from the state for four giant loads of refinery equipment; it's already sent two of those. Exxon is in the midst of a contested case hearing over its request for more than 200 more giant loads; the one permit it's received is for its “test validation module,” a test version of its megaloads that's been stalled on the route for the past two weeks. Click below to read ITD's full news release.

Billings Greets 1st Megaload

Donuts and coffee greet ConocoPhillips employees, public officials and members of Big Sky Economic Development as they gather to welcome the refinery's new coke drums to town today in Billings, Mont. Crews from Emmert International spent more than two months transporting the first two loads from a port in Lewiston, Idaho. The 300-ton loads contain coker drums to be installed at the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings. Video here. (AP Photo/The Billings Gazette, Larry Mayer)

Question: Which doughnut concoction is most appropriate for greeting arrival of a megaload from the Port of Lewiston many weeks later?

Murf: Harwood Has A Future In Comedy

It's nice to have a good laugh now and then - a real guffaw can change your outlook from gloomy to upbeat. Politicians use comedy to get the attention of voters, to relieve tension during legislative debate or to insult an opponent a la Don Rickles. Rep. Dick Harwood is no exception. The St. Maries uber Republican, fresh from the squaw-is-not-an-insult tour a few sessions ago, is taking his latest act to the people. He's currently appearing on a double bill with Tom Luna and his education reform review. And they're taking the Statehouse by storm. Harwood on Wednesday kicked-off his latest salute to common sense by introducing a bill that would effectively eliminate lawsuits against the state and its megaload policy/Murf Raquet, Moscow-Pullman Daily News. More here.

Question: Which North Idaho legislator do you consider to be the most off the wall?

Megaload=Disneyland Castle?

Parked between the Clearwater River and U.S. Highway 12 at Kooskia, Idaho, on Thursday, the first megaload of a ConocoPhillips half-drum awaits the next leg of its journey to Billings.

KOOSKIA, Idaho – Huckleberry sourdough pancakes, cigarettes and bulbs for strobe lights are among the purchases megaload crew members are making as the oversized cargo rolls through Idaho.

Kooskia was bustling on Thursday, just after the arrival of half a coke drum bound for a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings. The first four days of a three-week journey are on U.S. Highway 12.

“The megaload is our Disneyland castle,” said Lara Smith, an owner of Three Rivers Resort in Lowell and the Western Motor Inn in Kooskia. “Everybody has a picture of their kids in front of the megaload.” Elaine Williams, Lewiston Tribune

Will the boost in Idaho businesses silence some critics of megaloads?

INW: Megaloads Roll Out Of Lewiston

Despite the freezing weather people gather to watch as the first of four ConocoPhillips megaloads maneuvers its way onto the frontage road along U.S. Highway 12 Tuesday night in Lewiston. The cargo along with the two trucks and trailer hauling it weigh almost 300 tons are en-route to Billings, Montana. Missoulian story here. (AP Photo/Lewiston Tribune, Kyle Mills)

First megaload rolls on Highway 12

A giant truckload of oil refinery equipment began its lumbering journey late Tuesday onto scenic U.S. Highway 12, the AP reports; ConocoPhillips spokesman Bill Stephens said Tuesday night that the journey “went off just as planned.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Nicholas Geranios.

AM: Megaloads To Roll Tuesday

A little rain didn't stop people walking through the Port of Lewiston with picket signs Saturday in Lewiston. People gathered to protest the Mega Loads that are being prepared to be shipped to Montana on Tuesday. The megaloads will begin rolling Tuesday. Story here. (AP Photo/Lewiston Tribune, Kyle Mills)

Megaloads now won’t move ‘til Feb. 1

ITD now says the ConocoPhillips megaloads won't start moving until Feb. 1, rather than on Monday. The agency earlier today said the loads could start rolling Monday, but then it learned that Conoco wouldn't be ready by then, so it changed the permit date to Feb. 1, which is two weeks from today.

Megaloads opponents respond to ITD decision to let Conoco loads start rolling

Opponents of the proposed megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho today issued this response to ITD's decision today to let four ConocoPhillips loads start rolling on Monday:

“The 13 contested case intervenors are pleased that during the past 10 months the citizens of Idaho have had an opportunity to peel back the hidden layers of state agency decision-making and to learn more about what their state government has been planning for the Clearwater Valley and Highway 12.  We are saddened by the fact that the thousands of Idahoans who oppose the megaloads are having to work so hard to have one of their own state agencies hear them.  Citizens' right to question decisions made by state agencies is central to our democratic form of government. The 13 intervenors and their counsel will now need to confer to determine their next step.”

ITD Lets Megaloads Roll Next Monday

Idaho will let the four ConocoPhillips megaloads of oil equipment start traveling U.S. Highway 12 on Monday, Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness announced today. “I am convinced the record showed the loads can be moved safely, without damage to the roads and bridges and with minimal disruption to traffic and emergency services,” Ness said. “Every argument has been heard and considered. We can no longer delay this process”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Would you be yelling louder re: the megaloads, if they were going through a sensitive area in the five North Idaho counties, rather than scenic Highway 12 in north-central Idaho?

ITD to let Conoco megaloads roll Monday

Idaho will let the four ConocoPhillips megaloads of oil equipment start traveling U.S. Highway 12 on Monday, Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness announced today. “I am convinced the record showed the loads can be moved safely, without damage to the roads and bridges and with minimal disruption to traffic and emergency services,” Ness said. “Every argument has been heard and considered. We can no longer delay this process.”

Ness sided with a state hearing officer who backed the loads after a day and a half of testimony and arguments last month. Opponents, including residents and businesses along the scenic route in north-central Idaho, said the extra-large loads, which will take up both lanes of the twisting, two-lane road, threatened tourism, safety and travel in the area.

“I will not comment further on this case because litigation is possible and the similarities because of the pending request from Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil to transport oversized loads on U.S. 12,” Ness said. The permits for the ConocoPhillips loads, which consist of two giant coker drums cut in half, will be issued for travel starting on Monday, Ness said, weather permitting. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Forest service concerned about megaloads

The Missoulian reports that the U.S. Forest Service has expressed concerns to transportation departments in both Idaho and Montana about the megaloads of oil equipment proposed for U.S. Highway 12, saying they could conflict with its ability to “preserve, protect and manage the cultural and historical values associated with the corridor.” Northern Region Forester Leslie Weldon said the issue is of special concern “should frequent transport of significantly oversized loads become the norm for these forest highways.” You can read the Missoulian article here.

ConocoPhillips in megaloads appeal response: ‘The delays must end’

ConocoPhillips has filed its response to the appeal filed with ITD on Monday on a hearing officer's ruling upholding the issuance of ITD permits to Conoco for four megaloads of oil refinery equipment to travel U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to Billings, Mont. “The delays must end,” Conoco wrote in its response. “ConocoPhillips needs to get two coke drums to Billings to make much needed repairs to its refinery.” The company argues in its response that the process worked properly and opponents had the burden of proof to show it didn't; it writes, “It is undisputed that ConocoPhillips and its transporter, Emmert International, have satisfied every requirement and have addressed every question posed by ITD.” You can read the company's full filing here.

Megaloads opponents file appeal

Opponents of megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho have filed an appeal of the state hearing officer's findings and recommendation after a contested case hearing. The appeal, which you can read online here, contends that the hearing officer focused in his findings only on arguments presented by ITD and ConocoPhillips, and didn't deal with issues raised by the opponents. “ITD has a duty to consider all of the relevant facts and evidence before making a final determination,” said Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West, attorney for the opponents. “We’re taking exception to the hearing officer’s recommendation because he didn’t do that.”

ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten said ITD and ConocoPhillips now have 21 days to submit their responses to the appeal. ITD Director Brian Ness plans to review the filing and the responses before he rules on the issue, which regards whether permits should be granted for four megaloads proposed by ConocoPhillips to travel from the Port of Lewiston to Billings, Mont.

Ruling favors ConocoPhillips megaloads

A state hearing officer has ruled in favor of granting permits to ConocoPhillips to transport its four proposed megaloads of oil refinery equipment across U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, denying the appeal of 13 residents and business owners along the twisting, scenic route who objected. The recommendation and findings from hearing officer Merlyn Clark now go to ITD Director Brian Ness. ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten said Ness will consider the recommendations, and no schedule has been set for him to issue his decision. “Ness thanks Clark for his time and diligence in reviewing the case,” Stratten said in an email.

Linwood Laughy and Borg Hendrickson, the lead intervenors, said in a statement, “The 13 intervenors are, of course, disappointed and are evaluating their next steps.  This ruling only affects the 4 coke drum shipments of ConocoPhillips.  The intervenors earlier submitted to ITD a request to intervene in the contested case regarding Imperial Oil's proposed 207 tar sands module shipments.”

You can read Clark's full ruling and findings here, and click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Yes to mega-loads

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Associated Press is reporting that a hearing officer has recommended the Idaho Transportation Department issue permits to ConocoPhillips to move four giant truckloads of equipment across U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho.

The permits were the subject of earlier hearings in Boise, in which opponents argued that the trucks would block the twisting, two-lane road entirely, creating safety concerns, in addition to possibly damaging the pristine river environment and harming tourism.

The transportation department previously had issued permits for the four loads, but they were suspended while the permits were contested. Full story.

Some folks are going to be mighty unhappy.  How about you?

No megaloads decision before Xmas

State hearing officer Merlyn Clark confirmed today that the decision on ITD permits for ConocoPhillips' four proposed megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 won't be out before Christmas as earlier planned, and instead likely will be out before the New Year holiday. Clark is weighing two days of arguments, plus briefing from all sides, submitted as part of a contested-case hearing on the plan.

INW: ‘We Ain’t Nuts’ — Megaload Foes

More than a dozen Idaho river advocates gathered in front of the Idaho Transportation Department’s headquarters today to deliver a 50-pound bag of peanuts to DMV administrator Alan Frew. “The people who oppose the megaloads are not ‘nuts,’ Mr. Frew,” declared Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United. Betsy Russell’s Eye On Boise report here. And: Conoco says it’s looking ‘forward to decision’ here.

River advocates deliver peanuts to ITD, say megaloads opponents aren’t ‘nuts’

More than a dozen Idaho river advocates gathered in front of the Idaho Transportation Department’s headquarters today to deliver a 50-pound bag of peanuts to DMV administrator Alan Frew. “The people who oppose the megaloads are not ‘nuts,’ Mr. Frew,” declared Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United. “We take exception to your testimony characterizing those who oppose the mega-shipments as ‘nuts.’ We believe your comments exemplify ITD’s dismissive attitude toward those who have legitimate concerns about these proposed, region-altering shipments.”

On Wednesday, during the first day of the two-day contested-case hearing on the proposed ConocoPhillips megaloads, Frew testified that ITD decided to have turnouts along Highway 12  barricaded 24 hours in advance to avoid “nuts” protesting the loads from blocking traffic. Sedivy said his group had no intention of doing anything like that. “Certainly we wouldn’t condone any kind of behavior that threatens harm or injury to anybody,” he said. “That’s not our way, that’s not how we do business.”

The group gathered in front of the ITD headquarters included famed Idaho whitewater boater Rob Lesser, who has been boating the Lochsa River along Highway 12 since 1970. Lesser called the Lochsa “one of the stellar resources in the state of Idaho,” and said any plans to block the turnouts where whitewater rafters, anglers, hikers, sightseers, tourists and others park is “unacceptable if it happens during any of these recreational periods.” Though the ConocoPhillips is proposing just four megaloads which it wants to ship as soon as possible, ExxonMobil is proposing more than 200 more over the next year and another firm is proposing dozens more starting next spring.

The group today also included a woman dressed in a fish costume holding a sign saying, “‘Nuts’ for the Lochsa,” along with others holding signs with such slogans as “Hunters Against Megaloads” “Protect our Rivers,” and “Idaho’s heritage is not for sale” under a drawing of a silhouetted Lewis and Clark, the explorers whose path the highway roughly follows.

Conoco statement: ‘Look forward to decision’

After the conclusion yesterday of a two-day contested-case hearing on ConocoPhillips’ proposed megaloads on Highway 12, the company issued this statement:

“ConocoPhillips appreciated the opportunity to reaffirm to ITD and the public our detailed plans to transport four shipments of equipment from Lewiston to the Billings Refinery. Our refinery has a daily workforce of about 450 people who operate an important regional supply of secure, North American energy.  This includes providing transportation fuel to Idaho, Montana and several other western states. Our experts clearly demonstrated that we have thoroughly anticipated and planned for every stretch of road along the route.  We are confident we can apply careful coordination by the road crew and state and local agencies, highly experienced drivers and state-of-the-art equipment to transport the shipments safely while keeping traffic flowing. We look forward to a decision that will allow us to move our equipment to the Billings refinery soon, so we can conduct our planned maintenance  and continue operating this important facility safely and reliably.”

The hearing’s final witness, Conoco Billings refinery manager Steven Steach, was asked during cross-examination if the firm was paying its busload of employees who traveled to Boise and attended the hearing, wearing matching T-shirts backing the project. “We said we wouldn’t dock ‘em if they were scheduled to work today,” Steach responded; those who were scheduled to work but came to the hearings were paid for their regular shifts. The workers, he said, wanted “to show their support. They’re very proud of the refinery.”

Contentious Megaload Hearing Ends

ConocoPhillips painted a picture of years of quiet, painstaking work to plan for the safe transport of four giant mega-loads of oil equipment across a winding, scenic north-central Idaho highway, while highway residents said they never knew what was coming and accused Idaho’s Transportation Department of failing even to check on the company’s claims, let alone involve the public. A two-day contested-case hearing on Conoco’s proposed mega-loads wrapped up Friday in Boise, and state hearing officer Merlyn Clark said he’ll take the issue under advisement. … Asked when he’s likely to rule, Clark said, “I’d like to say at least before Christmas, but just as soon as I can get it done”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here. (AP file photo of megaload at Port of Lewiston)

Question: How would you rule?

Clark says he’ll rule ‘at least before Xmas’

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the two-day contested-case hearing on ConocoPhillips’ proposed megaloads on U.S. Highway 12. State hearing officer Merlyn Clark said he’ll take the issue under advisement. He asked attorneys on all sides to submit briefing on several issues to him by Wednesday at noon. “They want to expedite, and I’m going to do my best to get ‘em an expedited decision,” Clark said. Asked when he’s likely to rule, Clark said, “I’d like to say at least before Christmas, but just as soon as I can get it done.”

Hearing is adjourned; Clark says he ‘has no idea’ what his ruling will be

Hearing officer Merlyn Clark said he’ll rule as quickly as he can, but there’s a lot of information in the record that he’ll need to review. He asked the attorneys on all sides to submit post-hearing briefs by noon on Wednesday, “so I can then prepare a decision that is fair and as accurate as possible, and I have no idea at this point what that will be.”

That was final witness

That was the last witness - now the hearing officer and attorneys are discussing the schedule for post-hearing briefing.

ConocoPhillips Billings plant manager: ‘We did our homework on this’

ConocoPhillips has called Steven Steach, manager of its Billings refinery, to testify. “For the last 60 years we’ve been supplying transportation fuels to the Rocky Mountain Region,” Steach said. “We’re about 10 percent of the refining capacity in this region.” Steach noted that the plant has 300 employees and 150 contractors, and while most are there working today, a “large contingent” came over for the hearing “to show their support.”

Steach said it was “absolutely not” a corporate gamble for Conoco to ship its drums to Lewiston before getting ITD over-legal load permits. “We did our homework on this and we did our research,” he said. “We’ve done extensive engineering. … We hired an expert, Emmert. … We ran their study by five other nationwide transportation firms and they all concurred with the results.” Steach also said he doesn’t believe the drums would be usable if they were cut again; each already has been cut in half for transport.

Emmert already has hired barricade firm

Emmert International’s project manager, Mark Albrecht, said his firm has hired a barricade company to block the turnouts along U.S. Highway 12 before the ConocoPhillips megaloads come through. Though ITD’s proposed permits call for barricades for 24 hours in advance of the loads, Albrecht said, “We’ll try to accommodate ‘em as much as we can.” He said his firm will have someone at the pullouts to warn people who use them earlier in the day, and likely would close them off around 6 p.m. If there aren’t problems with protesters after the first day, he said, the barricading plan might be abandoned.

Asked if he’s consulted with the Nez Perce Tribe about blocking turnouts its members use to exercise their ancestral fishing rights, Albrecht said no. He also said Emmert hadn’t consulted with the Forest Service, which operates a rest area along the route; Albrecht said he wasn’t sure that was required.

Emmert: ‘We gauge each section of road’

Under cross-examination, Mark Albrecht, project manager for Emmert International, is defending the details of how the specialized trailers for the ConocoPhillips megaloads will work. “We gauge each section of road,” Albrecht said.

Emmert: If load went in river, it’d be cut up, pulled out in pieces

Mark Albrecht, project manager for Emmert International, said the specialized trailer his firm would use makes it almost impossible that the giant drum could tumble off into the river below. “The trailer was specifically chosen for this route and this load,” he said. “That trailer would have to go completely sideways to where it’s falling over for that load to come out.”

If a drum were to fall in the river, he said, it’d be ruined, because it’d no longer be perfectly round. So it could then be cut into 30,000-pound pieces, winched out and loaded onto standard trucks; Emmert wouldn’t attempt to lift the entire drum in a single piece, so it wouldn’t need a huge crane.