BOISE, Idaho – Opponents of a plan to allow ConocoPhillips to ship oversized oil-refinery equipment from Idaho to Montana are challenging a hearing officer’s recommendation that the proposal move forward.
The hearing officer, Boise attorney Merlyn Clark, recommended last month that the Idaho Transportation Department issue the permits to allow the shipments.
Opponents filed arguments with Idaho Transportation Department director Brian Ness on Monday challenging the hearing officer’s recommendation, attorney Laird Lucas said.
The transportation department and ConocoPhillips will have 21 days to respond to the appeal.
Foes of the shipments argue the huge loads, which will travel at very slow speeds along a route near where explorers Lewis and Clark traveled in the early 19th century, present a threat to tourism, public safety and convenience and could harm the pristine rivers along the proposed route.
But after a two-day public hearing in early December, Clark found that there was enough evidence to show that the four loads could be transported safely and with minimum inconvenience to the general public along north-central Idaho’s U.S. Highway 12, which parallels the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers.
In their filing challenging the recommendation, a group of 13 residents and business owners along the highway called Clark’s recommendation “one-sided” and “unfair.”
The group listed several exceptions they took with Clark’s recommendation, claiming he applied incorrect legal standards and failed to address evidence presented by opponents of the shipments in reviewing the case. Opponents also allege that Clark erred in dismissing their claims of potential harm as “speculative.”
For example, the big trucks and trailers will be required to pull over in turnouts every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass as required under state regulations. But opponents contend the Idaho Transportation Department is ignoring a rule that they say applies in this case and requires pulling over every 10 minutes.
And now, in their appeal, they say Clark erred in applying “relevant legal principles” when he ruled in favor of Idaho transportation officials and the oil company on this particular issue.
This detail is critical because the oil company has spent time and money expanding the roadway to accommodate turnouts at 15-minute intervals. It is also a key factor in the transportation agency’s ability to sign off on the shipments, as well as future oversized loads poised for permitting at the port in Lewiston.
ExxonMobil Corp. has already delivered more than 30 modules to the port in hopes of getting permits to ship the components along U.S. 12, into Montana and north to the oil sands in Alberta, Canada. Those loads would be even bigger, wider and longer than the ConocoPhillips shipments.
In their appeal filed this week, opponents of the shipments are asking the Idaho Transportation Department to reject Clark’s recommendation and deny permits to allow ConocoPhillips to move forward.
Ness has already taken Clark’s recommendation under advisement and there is no schedule for when he will make a decision on whether to allow the loads to move forward.
Ness plans to review the appeal filed Monday, along with responses from the Idaho Transportation Department and ConocoPhillips, before issuing a ruling in the case, spokesman Adam Rush said.
The director of the Montana Department of Transportation has said he will issue permits for ConocoPhillips to transport huge coke drums to a refinery in Billings, Mont. if Idaho approves the project.
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