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Eye on Boise: Megaloads may take both route options

It’s possible that megaloads of oil equipment bound for the Kearl oil sands development in Canada could take both identified routes through Idaho – scenic U.S. Highway 12, where the extra-wide loads would take up both lanes of the two-lane road, and a Highway 95/Interstate 90 route.

Last week, Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil got a favorable ruling from a state hearing officer on its bid to take the loads across Highway 12, its preferred route; it’s also been issued two permits to start bringing reduced-height loads from Lewiston up Highway 95 through Moscow to Coeur d’Alene, then across I-90 to Montana and Canada.

Imperial/Exxon spokesman Pius Rolheiser said, “Given the delays we have already experienced and the schedule for the Kearl project, we’re looking at all options available to us.” Could that mean the loads travel on both Idaho routes? “Yes, it could,” he said.

For now, the company is awaiting the final outcome on the Highway 12 permits, which still have an appeals period pending, and a court ruling in Montana on a challenge to road construction projects there to accommodate the extra-big loads on the Montana portion of the Highway 12 route.

The two permits for the freeway route were effective last Monday, but Rolheiser said the company’s still working with the Idaho State Police on staffing escorts for the loads. “They have some other priorities they need to manage, including the Western Governors (conference) and the Fourth of July holiday,” Rolheiser said. The company hopes to get revised dates for those first loads, which are still just as wide and long but have been reduced in height by half, to ITD shortly.

“It’s very much our intent to move the disassembled modules on U.S. 95 and I-90 east of Coeur d’Alene,” he said. “At the same time, we’re continuing to pursue permits for U.S. 12. … Obviously we would like to move as soon as we can.”

Otter: Bad rap for spud

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is ripping the new Harvard University study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that finds a link between eating Idaho’s most famous crop – the potato – and weight gain. “News flash: Regularly eating ANYTHING in an irresponsible way contributes to weight gain and other health concerns!” Otter declares in an op-ed piece. He adds, “You might be interested to know that at age 69, besides being Governor I still actively work my ranch and compete in rodeo events – and I get my energy from regularly eating Idaho’s famous potatoes – Harvard, the New England Journal of Medicine and the Los Angeles Times notwithstanding.”

ITD cites savings

The Idaho Transportation Department says it’s saved $5.7 million in the just-completed fiscal year by holding open vacant positions and through savings on liability insurance premiums.

It plans to funnel the savings into highway maintenance projects ($2.4 million); replacing two 36-year-old rotary snowplows ($1.1 million); replacing and upgrading highway equipment such as a motor grader used for winter maintenance, sweepers and a signal controller ($1.1 million); and covering higher diesel fuel costs ($1.1 million).

“We are rethinking how the department serves its customers,” said ITD Director Brian Ness. “The department is improving service while reducing costs.”

Boosting retirement?

Among the panelists addressing industrial energy efficiency at last week’s Western Governors Association conference in Coeur d’Alene was Don Sturtevant, energy manager for Simplot Corp., the company where Otter, who presided over the meeting, worked for 30 years.

“When I was there, it took 27,000 BTUs to make one pound of french fries,” Otter said.

Sturtevant said, “I’m happy to say we’re now 2,600 BTUs per pound of french fries, and we’re continually driving that down.” He said of Simplot Corp., “We are a large french fry manufacturer, fertilizer manufacturer, and hold a lot of land and cattle. We use a lot of energy. … We have good incentives to go after energy efficiency.”

After Sturtevant’s comments, Otter joked, “With all these savings I fully expect my retirement check to go up.”