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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho bill targets anti-megaload lawsuits

Parked between the Clearwater River and U.S. Highway 12 at Kooskia, Idaho, on Feb. 3, the first megaload of a ConocoPhillips half-drum awaits the next leg of its journey to Billings. (Associated Press / Lewiston Tribune)
BOISE - St. Maries Rep. Dick Harwood introduced legislation Wednesday designed to impose huge bonding requirements on anyone who sues to block a megaload - or anything else - from traveling on Idaho’s highways. Harwood’s bill, which the House State Affairs Committee agreed to introduce on a divided vote, would require anyone who files a lawsuit against a transportation project on state highways to post a bond equal to 5 percent of the value of the items being hauled, and if the plaintiffs lose the lawsuit, the whole bond would go to the Idaho Transportation Department. For giant megaloads, that potentially could be tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Plus, the bill would authorize the court to award damages to the hauler in the amount of its loss for delays related to the lawsuit. “This has been brought because of the megaloads,” Harwood told the committee. “Any time an individual group can stop our commerce from flowing, it’s not a good thing, and that’s what happened.” Four huge loads of oil refinery equipment have been approved to travel from Lewiston to Montana on U.S. Highway 12, over protests from area residents and business owners, who sued to block the loads but lost at the Idaho Supreme Court. Hundreds more oversized loads are now proposed for the twisting, two-lane route; the loads are so wide they take up both lanes, creating a rolling roadblock. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, an attorney, raised questions about Harwood’s bill, saying, “It looks like they’re paying twice,” between the bond and the damages to the hauler. Luker said if the bond is excessive, the plaintiff should get amounts back beyond the department’s costs associated with the project, but said, “the bill doesn’t say that.” Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, said, “I think that that’s totally justifiable because they really did put the Department of Transportation into a lot of extra hearings and transportation costs, going to North Idaho for the hearings and whatever else. Ultimately, they won, but without this, there was no reimbursement for their extra expenses.” Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, who said he’s supportive of the megaloads, voted against introducing Harwood’s bill. “I don’t think he had any answers for any questions that were given to him - I think he needs to refine it,” Anderson said. “I can’t even tell you what the bill says right now, for reading it.” He added, “People have a right to access our court system, that’s my theory.” Harwood compared his proposal to bonds required for lawsuits over state timber sales, and said those bond requirements “pretty much ended any lawsuits on the Department of Lands.” Meanwhile, megaloads opponents on Wednesday filed a petition asking ITD to reconsider its initial approval of 207 proposed megaloads that ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil plan to send across Highway 12, now that the company has begun modifying many of the loads to allow them to be trucked to Alberta, Canada via the interstate system instead. Highway 12 resident Borg Hendrickson said, “Throughout 2010, Exxon/Imperial repeatedly told Idahoans that no alternative route existed for these massive loads, but now 60 of them are being shipped from Vancouver via an alternative route and 30 more are also going to be shipped via an alternative route,” after modifications as they sit in Lewiston. “ITD’s decision needs to be based on real facts, and our petition, in effect, asks ITD to step back and get those facts.”