Businesses Back Plan to Move Equipment on Highway

By Beacon Staff

SPOKANE, Wash. – Plans to move gigantic oil refinery equipment down a mountainous Idaho highway are being defended by ConocoPhillips and an Idaho business group.

A group called Drive Our Economy was launched this week, intending to ensure that U.S. Highway 12 and other roads in Idaho and Montana remain open for commercial use.

“Idaho farmers and businesses rely heavily on our roadways to move our products and to keep Idahoans employed,” said Pat Richardson, Clearwater County president of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

Opponents in state courts have denounced the loads, saying they present a threat to tourism, public safety and convenience and pristine rivers along the proposed route.

ConocoPhillips, the company that wants to move the equipment, pointed out in a court brief that the Montana refinery where the equipment is bound produces 65 million gallons of motor fuel used in Idaho each year.

Richardson accused environmental groups of “using scare tactics around these ‘megaloads’ to drown out a productive discussion.” The various proposed shipments down U.S. 12 would be worth $13 million to Idaho, he said.

The loads would be more than 200 feet long, up to three stories tall and take up both lanes of the rural highway. Trucks would move only at night and pull over in newly designed turnouts during the day.

The Idaho Transportation Department issued permits Wednesday allowing ConocoPhillips to haul four massive, oversized loads of refinery equipment along U.S. 12 from Lewiston, Idaho, to the Montana border. The loads are bound for Conoco’s refinery in Billings, Mont., but that state has yet to issue permits.

The Idaho permits carry an important condition: The rigs can’t roll along the narrow, curvy road until opponents of the shipments have a chance to argue before a judge their right to intervene and challenge the permits.

ConocoPhillips’s brief sought to block the hearing, which was sought by three residents. The hearing has not been scheduled.

“We feel this is a good step for us because it allows us to get a full and fair hearing, and is a good step forward for the public,” said Borg Hendrickson of Kooskia, Idaho, who with her husband and a neighbor have led the fight against the shipments.

The Idaho section of the journey is along Highway 12, a two-lane, 175-mile stretch that passes through a federally designated river corridor and parallels the Clearwater and Lochs rivers.

While opponents are concerned about the four ConocoPhillips loads, their main worry is about a proposal by ExxonMobile to ship more than 200 loads of refinery equipment up the same road to Canada in the next year, with trucks moving five nights a week.

Conoco’s brief contended its request involves just four shipments that will move at night and have minimal traffic impacts. The equipment is needed to upgrade the Billings refinery, which employs more than 400 workers and helps the nation reduce its dependence on foreign oil, Conoco said.

“The Billings refinery has been in operation for 60 years and supplies more than 7 percent of the petroleum products used in Idaho,” it said.

Opponents have not presented a good argument for revisiting the state’s decision to issue permits and instead “seem intent on merely using a variety of delaying tactics to impede a perfectly safe, legitimate and necessary project,” Conoco said.

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