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Megaloads hearing wraps up; decision due in June

Retired Idaho District Judge Duff McKee, at left, presides over the contested case hearing on proposed megaloads on Highway 12 on Wednesday; testifying is traffic engineer Pat Dobie. (Betsy Russell)
Retired Idaho District Judge Duff McKee, at left, presides over the contested case hearing on proposed megaloads on Highway 12 on Wednesday; testifying is traffic engineer Pat Dobie. (Betsy Russell)
BOISE - After three weeks, testimony in the contested case hearing on more than 200 proposed megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 wrapped up today with disputes over how much the giant loads will damage the highway’s pavement and whether a test megaload shipment worked or not. The hearing officer, retired state District Judge Duff McKee, set a briefing schedule calling for all sides to submit their final written arguments, and then replies, by the end of May; his ruling likely would follow in mid-June. In the final day’s testimony, megaload opponents recalled their expert witness, Boise traffic engineer Pat Dobie, who said by his calculations, damage to the road from the heavy, oversized loads would far exceed the revenue the Idaho Transportation Department would collect through fees and gas taxes as the loads travel through the state. Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West, attorney for the opponents, who include residents and business owners along the route, said afterward the issue is significant. By Dobie’s calculations, the revenues would cover only about 23 percent of the loads’ damage to pavement. Even by ITD’s figures, Lucas said, it’d be only about 30 percent. “It still means they’re not covering even half the cost they’re imposing on the pavement itself, using ITD’s numbers, and that was unrebutted,” he said. Attorneys for ITD called Jeff Miles, a materials expert for the department, to respond to Dobie’s testimony that a “test validation module,” designed to match the longest, widest, tallest and heaviest of the 200-plus megaloads Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil wants to run across the route, didn’t follow the traffic control plan approved by the department, so it wasn’t a valid test of the plan. “It did not conform with the permit and with the traffic control plan that was attached to the permit, so they didn’t test the permit - they did something else,” he said. Among other differences, Dobie noted additional flaggers and failure to pull off at all intended turnouts; the load took more than three weeks to travel the route, rather than the planned three days. Miles said the plans are “intended to be a minimum requirement.” That echoed a concern McKee brought up during Dobie’s testimony about the test load. “You’re saying the permit is not just the minimum requirements,” McKee said to Dobie. Dobie responded, “It’s my understanding that the requirement is, if you’re going to change the plan, you go back and change the permit.” Cynthia Bergman White, spokeswoman for ExxonMobil, said in a statement after the close of testimony, “The hearing process further demonstrated the years of careful planning and steps taken to ensure these loads can be transported safely and with minimal disruption to the public. We eagerly await the judge’s decision.” Officials from Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil and Mammoet Transportation, the hauler for the megaloads, who had attorneys participating in the hearing, as did both ITD and the opponents, are headed up to Moscow, Idaho for a public meeting this evening on the proposal. Lucas said, “I think we raised some real questions about how well their traffic control plan works in the real world.” In addition to the Idaho administrative hearing, the Imperial/ExxonMobil megaloads plan faces a May 16 court hearing in Montana on an injunction to block construction of new turnouts and other roadwork there to allow the giant loads to travel through the state; and a lawsuit is pending in federal court over the loads. In the federal lawsuit, Idaho Rivers United has sued the U.S. Forest Service, contending it’s required by federal law to protect the designated wild and scenic river corridor from being turned into “an industrial high-and-wide corridor for megaloads,” and asking the federal court to block the loads.
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