LEWISTON, Idaho – A judge on Tuesday revoked special permits allowing a company to truck four oversized loads of oil refinery equipment through a federally protected river corridor, saying the state failed to address public concerns.
Second District Judge John Bradbury ordered the Idaho Transportation Department to review the request from ConocoPhillips again and to take action to ensure the safety and convenience of the public.
Last week, Bradbury put a temporary halt to the oil company’s plans to ship the massive coke drums along the 175-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 12 in northern Idaho.
In his ruling Tuesday, he criticized the transportation department’s review of the permit application. He said the state did not “address the ‘inevitable’ accident or breakdown that could shut down Highway 12 for days or weeks overlooks the quintessential disaster and its effects on the users of Highway 12.”
He also criticized the permits for allowing the big trucks to move aside only every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass, instead of every 10 minutes as required by law.
Critics of the plan say the trucks and massive loads could damage a pristine river environment, harm tourism in a region dependent on visitors and threaten public safety.
The trucks would roll along a highway that parallels the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers and was once explored by Lewis and Clark.
Laird Lucas, an attorney for Boise-based Advocates for the West, said the judge was correct to question the impact the shipments would have on public convenience.
“We’re really pleased that Judge Bradbury is holding the Idaho Department of Transportation accountable under its own regulations,” Lucas said. “This is going to be a serious obstacle to shipping these megaloads up the highway.”
Some area businesses sued last week to block the shipments. During a hearing Monday, plaintiff attorney Natalie Havlina told the judge that agency officials narrowly focused their review on potential damage to roads and bridges but failed to adequately consider public safety and convenience, as required by state code.
The agency “has abandoned its responsibility to protect the public’s health,” Havlina, an attorney for Advocates for the West, told the judge in a courtroom packed with opponents of the shipments.
Attorneys for the state and oil company disagreed. The state agency suggested numerous changes in the company’s travel plans, resulting in a 700-page document that lays out the ground rules for the shipments, they said.
The ConocoPhillips shipments are just the first oversized loads planned for the corridor. Exxon Mobil Corp. is proposing to haul more than 200 oversized loads of heavy oil machinery from the port in Lewiston along Highway 12 into Montana, then north to the Kearn Oil Sands project in Alberta.
Each of the Exxon loads would weigh 300 tons, stretch 227 feet long, reach 27 feet high and 29 feet in width — wide enough to take up both lanes of the highway. Trucks would move only at night and pull over in newly designed turnouts during the day.
The transportation agency issues about four oversized load permits annually for trucks hauling houses and farming equipment along the route. State officials say the loads proposed by the oil companies will be offset by the trailers’ bigger tires and extra axles, creating less stress on the road than logging trucks or other commercial haulers.
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