BOISE – Though 33 oversize loads of oil equipment in Lewiston are being cut down so they can travel on other routes – including Highway 95 through Moscow and Coeur d’Alene – Idaho Transportation Department officials said at a hearing Monday that it wouldn’t be “practical” to require such a move rather than allowing the giant loads to travel via scenic, winding U.S. Highway 12.
Re-sizing the loads is no easy task, said Reymundo Rodriguez, ITD’s motor carrier services manager. “We’ve been told it’s 2,000 to 4,000 man-hours and it costs $500,000 a module. It doesn’t seem to me practical for them to reduce it.”
Even after being reduced, the giant loads are so wide that they’ll block both lanes of a two-lane highway, whether that’s Highway 95 or Highway 12. The cut-down versions aren’t as tall; the full-size ones are as tall as a three-story building and up to 250 feet long.
A contested-case hearing that kicked off Monday and is scheduled last at least through the week will decide whether Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil will be allowed to send more than 200 megaloads of equipment via the scenic highway to the Alberta oil sands project in Canada.
The Korean-made equipment is being brought to the Port of Lewiston by barge up the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Opponents, including residents and business owners along the route, say the project will turn the designated scenic byway into an industrial “high and wide corridor” and ruin its thriving tourism draw.
Ruth May, owner and operator of the Reflections Inn bed-and-breakfast on Highway 12 east of Kooskia, said that when two earlier megaloads came through the route bound for a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, they blocked traffic in front of her inn for 45 minutes to an hour.
“We have no way in or out except Highway 12,” she told the hearing examiner, retired Idaho District Judge Duff McKee.
Peter Grubb, co-owner and operator of the Riverdance Lodge and ROW Adventures, a whitewater rafting and fishing outfitter, said 1,200 to 2,000 people a year go on his company’s outfitted river trips, and the lodge he opened in the river corridor in 2005 was “the largest tourism investment in Idaho County in at least 20 years.”
But the ITD argued that it can’t “restrict commercial travel to protect the scenic appeal of the area, the current business environment in the area, and to insure uninterrupted sleep of individuals choosing to live in close proximity to the highway.”
This year’s Idaho Legislature approved a new law allowing judges to require anyone suing to block a transportation project on Idaho highways to put up a huge cash bond, a move lawmakers said was aimed at halting lawsuits over megaloads.
Imperial argued that the same legal standards used to approve the more limited ConocoPhillips shipments should apply to the larger Imperial/Exxon project. “It would be inherently unfair … to apply a different legal standard to Imperial in this proceeding,” the company argued.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.