Idaho Court Vacates Megaload Ruling

By Beacon Staff

BOISE, Idaho — Environmentalists said a 3-2 decision Monday by the Idaho Supreme Court focusing on proposed oil-equipment shipments on U.S. Highway 12 likely means the state highway agency now must hold a formal hearing where foes of the wide loads can air their grievances in public.

In August, 2nd District Judge John Bradbury stopped the four oversized shipments by ConocoPhillips between the port of Lewiston and Billings, Mont., telling the highway agency it hadn’t done enough to ensure public safety and convenience.

State high court justices didn’t weigh in on the merits of the case. Instead, they vacated Bradbury’s decision, ruling it was premature because neither the Idaho Transportation Board nor Transportation Department director Brian Ness had issued a final order on whether the shipments could proceed.

“Absent a final order, any petition for judicial review is premature,” wrote Justice Warren Jones for the majority.

Attorney Laird Lucas represents the environmentalists challenging the shipments on grounds they imperil the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers that parallel the highway. He said his clients will file paperwork giving them formal standing to participate in a hearing overseen by an administrative law judge.

“I think ITD has to do more, and I think they have to allow us to have full participation in the process,” Lucas said.

His clients, including Linwood Laughy, Karen Hendrickson and Peter Grubb, in October filed separate paperwork with the state to formally challenge more than 200 additional shipments being planned by another oil company, Exxon Mobil Corp., from Lewiston to the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.

Jeff Stratten, Idaho Transportation Department spokesman, said his agency’s lawyers were still reviewing Monday’s ruling and had no immediate comment.

Justices Daniel Eismann and Joel Horton agreed with Jones for the majority.

Justices Jim Jones and Roger Burdick dissented, concluding the case was ripe for judicial review because of the informal way the Transportation Department conducted the process to give ConocoPhillips a permit to ship its big coke drums from Lewiston to Billings.

“As persons who live along the route and who will be affected by the transportation of the ConocoPhillips units, Respondents certainly appear to be aggrieved persons,” Justice Jim Jones wrote. “As such, they have a right to be heard.”

Associated Press writer Todd Dvorak in Boise contributed to this report.

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