Comment Period Open on Moving Mining Equipment Through Montana

By Beacon Staff

A 30-day comment period is open on the state’s environmental assessment of an oil company’s plan to haul about 200 oversized loads of mining equipment through northwestern Montana to Canada starting this fall.

The Montana Department of Transportation posted its environmental assessment for the Kearl Module Transport Project last week and is accepting public comment through May 14. Public hearings are also scheduled April 27 in Cut Bank, April 28 in Lincoln and April 29 in Missoula.

The assessment examined Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil’s application to move loads as large as 24 feet wide, 30 feet high and 50 yards long from Lolo Pass about 350 miles to the Port of Sweet Grass, north of Shelby. The equipment is destined for an oil sands project in northern Alberta.

“We’ve tasked Exxon with identifying all the impacts for the move,” said Dwayne Kailey of the state Department of Transportation. “We’ve reviewed that and we believe it’s fairly accurate, but there are people who live along the corridor, who drive there every day, and we want to make sure that we’ve captured all the impacts as accurately as we can.

“We put it out for the public, let them identify anything we may have missed, and then we go back and we address those issues,” he said.

The agency is required by state statute to issue the permits as long as the company mitigates all identified impacts, Kailey said.

The plan calls for transferring equipment from barges at the Port of Lewiston, Idaho, to trucks that will travel into Montana over Lolo Pass on U.S. Highway 12. The estimated 200 loads will travel weekdays and nights down mostly two-lane highways for about a year.

Missoula river guide Jim Hepburn has been collecting signatures for more than a month to halt the transport along the Lochsa River corridor in Idaho, classified as a Wild and Scenic River.

“Because it’s a Wild and Scenic River Corridor … I don’t think it should be being used for this type of transportation,” Hepburn said.

Northern Rockies Rising Tide, a coalition of environmental groups in Missoula, is protesting the project because it believes developing the oil sands will contribute to climate change, spokesman Nick Stocks said.

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