Montana Power Lines Moved to Make Way for Huge Loads

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A company that wants to move more than 200 huge loads of oilfield equipment from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho and through northwestern Montana is paying utility companies in Montana to move power lines, a spokesman says.

Pius Rolhiser of Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil of Canada said the company is paying for the utility relocations and that means $21.6 million in economic activity in the state.

“All the utility work that is currently going on is at the cost of Imperial, and would be done whether or not the permits are received,” Rolhiser said.

The Montana Transportation Department has not issued moving permits to the company for the loads, and groups in Montana and Idaho are fighting the plan.

“That seems to me to be a big gamble” for Imperial/Exxon, said Missoula County Commissioner Michele Landquist, an opponent of the huge loads.

Workers with Missoula Electric Cooperative and NorthWestern Energy since early June have been either burying or raising power lines so the 30-foot-high loads that could weigh up to 140 tons and be 170 to 210 feet long can pass through safely.

Officials with the utility companies said customers won’t end up paying for the work if the moving permits are denied.

“We’ve taken precautions to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Mark Hayden, manager of Missoula Electric Cooperative.

“NorthWestern Energy has a policy that the cost-causer pays,” company spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch said.

Rapkoch said there are about 200 crossings, mostly around Missoula, on the NorthWestern Energy system that Imperial must alter, with work on 50 already completed.

Hayden said Missoula Electric Cooperative has received permits to relocate 82 of about 170 crossings, and work has been completed at 35 of them.