The Idaho Transportation Department failed Thursday to disqualify the judge in the U. S. Highway 12 giant truck shipments case, and he in turn delayed an injunction hearing from today to Monday.
John Bradbury of Idaho’s 2nd District rescheduled the hearing for 11 a.m. Monday in Lewiston. He also granted a motion from ConocoPhillips, whose oil refinery equipment shipments are on hold because of the lawsuit, to intervene in the case and participate in Monday’s hearing.
“ITD will present its case on Monday,” said department spokesman Jeff Stratten. “The proposed shipments by Conoco will remain at the Port of Lewiston awaiting the judge’s decision.”
ConocoPhillips has four giant loads it wants to truck from the Port of Lewiston to its refinery in Billings. Those would be the first of more than 200 such extra-large loads to travel the route. Under a plan by Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil it would move giant equipment manufactured in Korea to its oil sands project in Alberta.
The loads are so large they’ll take up both lanes of the road, blocking traffic. Plans call for them to travel at night, and pull over every 15 minutes. They’re also far taller, longer and heavier than regular commercial semi-trucks, weighing up to 337 tons.
The Exxon shipments aren’t scheduled to start until November, but Conoco had hoped to start its shipments this week, to coincide with a brief interval in which both sides of the Arrow Bridge along Highway 12 will be available. A repaving project had one side closed until this week, and the other side is scheduled to close for repaving shortly.
That means if Conoco’s equipment, which was shipped to the Port of Lewiston in May, doesn’t go soon, it may not be able to move until the bridge paving project is completed in October.
Three residents of the Clearwater/Lochsa river canyon along Highway 12, which is officially designated the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, sued to block the Conoco shipments, saying it and the later loads will impact tourism, safety, traffic and business in the area.
On Tuesday, Bradbury issued a temporary restraining order to block ITD from issuing the permits to Conoco. But in a telephone conference on Thursday, all sides agreed that ITD could issue the permits on Monday morning, so the judge could then review them in court. The temporary restraining order blocking the permits runs through today.
“We’re challenging the underlying determination that the permit should be issued,” said Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West, which is representing the plaintiffs for free. “But we all realized that it’d be a lot easier for all of us if we can see exactly what the permit says. So the permit will be issued on Monday morning, and then we’ll be in court Monday morning asking the court to consider the preliminary injunction. They’re not going to start the load.”
ITD gave no reason for seeking to disqualify the judge, arguing it could automatically remove the judge without cause. That’s allowed in civil cases in Idaho, but not when the judge is sitting in an appellate capacity; in this case, Bradbury is reviewing a decision of ITD.
Idaho previously had a rule that also allowed disqualification of judges without cause in criminal cases, but last month, the Idaho Supreme Court suspended that rule, saying it had been used excessively and abused.
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