MISSOULA – A plan to move more than 200 huge loads of oilfield equipment from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho and through northwestern Montana is being challenged in both states.
The Missoula County commission wants Montana’s Transportation Department to do a more extensive environmental impact statement of Imperial Oil’s proposal to haul the gear to an oil field in northern Alberta.
In a letter to transportation commission chairwoman Nancy Espy of Broadus, Missoula city commissioners took the agency to task for treating the pending movement of the large modules through the state “strictly from a mitigation standpoint.”
“Clearly, the intention of the department was to issue a permit, regardless of the validity of public opposition,” commissioners wrote in a letter signed Wednesday. “It is also clear this route, when permitted, will become a permanent route, despite claims by the department to the contrary.”
The agency should at least require an environmental impact statement, as opposed to an environmental review, commissioners said.
Dwane Kailey, chief operations officer at MDT, said he believes only an environmental assessment is required under the Montana Environmental Policy Act. Environmental impact statements are outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Public outcry or public controversy is more detailed, more highly discussed in NEPA, and is not a large consideration of MEPA,” Kailey said.
Meanwhile, three Idaho conservation groups are challenging an assertion by their state’s transportation department that it must issue permits for oversized loads if haulers can prove their ability to navigate a road safely without causing damage.
Representatives of Advocates for the West, Idaho Rivers United and Friends of the Clearwater say their review of Idaho code and IDT’s regulations found no basis for that position, said Kevin Lewis, conservation director of Idaho Rivers United of Boise.
Idaho statute gives IDT discretion in authorizing loads that exceed normal size, with consideration for the safety and convenience of the general public and the preservation of the highway system, the groups said.
IDT will refer the issue to the deputy attorney general, spokesman Mel Coulter said.
The comments from the environmental groups were among more than 400 comments IDT received regarding the loads, which could weigh up to 140 tons and be 170 to 210 feet long.
The Nez Perce tribe also opposes the plan, which calls for the modules to travel across 70 miles of reservation roads.
Montana’s Department of Transportation has said it won’t issue moving permits until Idaho does, although it has already authorized burying or raising utility lines in anticipation of the moves.
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