Groups Plan Legal Action to Stop Montana Megaloads

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – The National Wildlife Federation and Missoula County commissioners plan to join other groups in seeking a court injunction to prevent an oil company from moving oversized loads of refinery equipment across Montana, officials say.

The court action tentatively planned for this week targets an environmental assessment by the Montana Department of Transportation, said Tony Iollonardo, senior communications manager for the environmentalist group in Washington, D.C.

The state department in February released the assessment that found no significant negative impacts on Montana’s roads and environment in allowing Imperial Oil, an Exxon Mobil Corp. subsidiary, to ship dozens of massive loads of oil equipment across the state to Alberta, Canada, where the modules would be assembled into a factory at an $8 billion complex at the Kearl oil sands.

“The crux of (the filing) is, Montana DOT did not do adequate environmental review before making the decision,” Iollonardo told the Missoulian. “This will seek to get further review and stave off the rush to have the heavy haul move through your state.”

County Commissioner Michele Landquist said allowing the megaloads could set a precedent and make giant shipments a fixture on the planned route through scenic and recreation corridors.

“I think we’ll be selling our community out pretty darn cheap,” said Landquist, who lives on the proposed shipping route along U.S. Highway 12 near Lolo. “In the long run, this would turn into a permanent high-wide corridor.”

Landquist said the decision by the commissioners to join the lawsuit won’t be finalized until the county’s legal counsel offers advice.

The company originally proposed moving 207 loads along U.S. Highway 12 starting from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho. The loads would enter Montana at Lolo Pass and eventually pass through Missoula.

Near Missoula, the loads would leave U.S. Highway 12 and use U.S. Highway 200 through Bonner, cross the Continental Divide at Rogers Pass, then travel along the Rocky Mountain Front through Augusta, Choteau, Valier and Cut Bank to the Port of Sweetgrass.

“You’re going to see a collection of wide interests (filing suit), probably from local governments in Montana to conservation groups to landowner groups,” Iallonardo said, declining to name other groups.

Due to legal wrangling in Idaho and Montana, Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil has made changes and this month submitted plans to the Idaho Department of Transportation to make the loads smaller so they can be moved on interstate highways.

The company said last month it was reconfiguring 33 of the megaloads now at the Port of Lewiston into 60 smaller shipments.

The 30-foot-tall megaloads weigh about 500,000 pounds. The largest of the 60 oversized loads planned for the interstate would be 207 feet long, 24 feet wide, just under 16 feet tall and weigh about 165,000 pounds, officials said. Under the proposed plan, the smaller loads would take three days to cross Idaho, traveling at night, to reach the Montana border.

The company also was trying to get state permits to truck the full-sized, 30-foot-tall megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 through Idaho. A hearing concerning the plan is set for April 25 in Boise.

Meanwhile, the company’s plan to move an oversized test megaload Monday on U.S. Highway 12 in northern Idaho has been delayed until April 4, according to Idaho transportation officials.

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