BOISE, Idaho – Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness has agreed to issue travel permits that would allow oil giant ConocoPhillips to begin hauling as early as next week large oil refinery machinery along a winding and scenic stretch of U.S. Highway 12.
Ness said Tuesday he is convinced ConocoPhillips and its contracted shipper can safely haul the four separate loads from the port in Lewiston along a 172 mile stretch in northcentral Idaho en route to the company’s refinery in Billings, Mont.
His decision follows months of challenges that played out in state courts and administrative hearings over the agency’s initial decision to permit the oversized loads.
“I am convinced the record showed the loads can be moved safely, without damage to the roads and bridges and with minimal disruption to traffic and emergency services,” Ness said in a statement. “Every argument has been heard and considered. We can no longer delay this process.”
Ness said two permits would be issued by the agency Tuesday that would enable the company to begin hauling two of the four shipments starting Monday, weather conditions allowing.
But opponents of the shipments may also have a say in whether the heavy loads hit the road next week.
A group of residents who either live or own businesses along the roadway have threatened to take their case back to court if the agency issued another set of permits. They claim giant trucks moving along the mountainous, two-lane roadway pose a threat to public safety and convenience and a risk to the environment and the region’s dependency on tourism.
Laird Lucas, the attorney for those opponents, did not immediately return a telephone message left Tuesday by The Associated Press.
Lucas has also tried to argue that the permits and travel plan for ConocoPhillips sets a bad precedent for the agency and future commercial trucking along the highway.
Later this year, ExxonMobil wants to begin hauling the first of more than 200 oversized loads along the bypass, into Montana then north to the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.
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