BOISE, Idaho – Idaho highway officials say they have no doubt that four oversized loads of refinery equipment can cut across northern Idaho along a scenic river byway safely and with only a minor inconvenience to the public.
At a hearing Wednesday in Boise, officials from the Idaho Transportation Department defended their agency’s review and decision to sign off on permits allowing ConocoPhillips to truck the massive loads from Lewiston to its refinery in Billings, Mont., along U.S. Highway 12.
Alan Frew, administrator of ITD’s Motor Vehicle Division, said the agency made public safety and convenience a top priority at every step in its review of the travel plan, from making the trucks roll only at night to reduce interaction with other motorists, to making sure police and emergency medical escorts would accompany the convoys.
“Are these loads 100 percent safe? No, there is nothing 100 percent safe on the highway,” Frew said. “But in determining and providing for the issuance of permits, we did everything … to make sure we were reasonably sure these loads could move safely and with as little inconvenience to the public.”
His testimony came in the first day of a two-day hearing over the permits issued to the oil company last month.
Administrative hearing officer Merlyn Clark determined that opponents had the legal right to contest the department’s decision to issue the permits, and ITD Director Brian Ness agreed to schedule a hearing to argue the case.
Clark, a Boise attorney appointed by the agency, is expected to issue a recommendation to Ness, who will then make a final decision on the permits.
The Transportation Department and its decision to let ConocoPhillips haul the coke drums on custom trailers across the 175-mile Idaho stretch of the winding, mountainous roadway has been under attack for months by opponents who live or operate businesses along the highway.
In his opening statement, ConocoPhillips attorney Erik Stidholm argued the agency did everything right. He said the company’s travel plan has been victimized by a clever misinformation campaign.
But opponents argue the agency didn’t do all its homework in reviewing the plan. They contend the agency essentially gave the company pre-approval, then in its analysis failed to adequately consider all the pitfalls and risks to public safety associated with moving the biggest, heaviest loads ever permitted on the two-lane highway.
“The four permits should be withdrawn because ITD didn’t comply with its regulatory duties,” said Natalie Havlina, the Boise attorney representing 13 opponents.
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