Disputed Oversized Loads to Start Rolling in Idaho

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – ConocoPhillips will start moving its first load of oversized oil-refinery equipment across northern Idaho and into Montana starting Tuesday, said a spokesman for the oil company.

Bill Stephens said the first of four large loads starting from the port of Lewiston will take four days to cross Idaho on a winding and scenic stretch of U.S. Highway 12 on its way to a refinery in Billings, Mont. The shipment follows months of legal challenges over the Idaho Transportation Department’s initial decision to permit the oversized loads and approval of the travel plan.

Earlier this month, Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness agreed to issue travel permits allowing ConocoPhillips to start moving the huge loads.

Stephens told the Missoulian that first load will be joined by a second near Lolo Pass, and the two loads will start a 14-day trip across Montana, beginning Feb. 10 and covering 172 miles from start to finish.

The big rigs are authorized to travel from 10 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. in Idaho, and midnight to 6 a.m. in Montana. They would be parked at roadside turnouts during the day, and likely some nights as well.

In Montana, traffic can be delayed for no more than 10 minutes. In Idaho, delays of up to 15 minutes are allowed.

“They agree that safety’s more important than the day you move it,” said Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, referring to the company. “We’re interested not only in the safety of the rigs that are moving down the roadway, but what are the conditions for the motorists that are traveling on the roadway? We want to make sure that we’re not creating an unsafe environment for them as well.”

The transporters have 24 axles and 96 wheels, carrying the huge loads that weight about 300 tons each. The trucks are 29 feet wide, 28 feet high, and 226 feet long.

Officials said each load will be accompanied by about 30 workers, ranging from law enforcement to flaggers and civilian escorts. On tight corners, workers will walk on the roadway and manipulate dollies that support beams on which the refinery equipment sits.

Idaho-based Advocates for the West and Montana-based All Against the Hall said they planned to protest the passing loads, but won’t try to block the shipments.

“We think it is important for local residents to understand exactly how massive these shipments are and what their impacts may be for traffic and business on Highway 12,” said Linwood Laughy of Advocates for the West. “But we do not suggest that anyone attempt to interfere with them.”

“We’ll have a demonstration or rally in Lolo whenever the loads happen to be sitting there, and we expect hundreds of people to be there,” said Zack Porter of All Against the Haul.

Later this year, ExxonMobil hopes to begin shipping the first of more than 200 oversized loads along the byway, into Montana, then north to the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. ExxonMobil has already delivered more than a dozen massive modules of refinery machinery to the port in Lewiston.

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