Hearing Begins in Idaho Megaloads Case

By Beacon Staff

BOISE, Idaho – The fate of ExxonMobil’s plans to haul massive shipments of oil refinery equipment along U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho is at stake in a hearing that started Monday with objections from residents and business owners along the route.

The hearing, expected to last at least four days, is the latest challenge to the plan by ExxonMobil subsidiary Imperial Oil to ship giant loads of equipment from the port in Lewiston, into Montana and ultimately to the Kearl Oil Sands in southern Alberta, Canada.

The company initially projected transporting more than 200 shipments on the scenic roadway. But in recent months it has found a way to reduce the size of dozens of shipments and reroute the loads along a different, less controversial path.

Early in Monday’s hearing, Reflections Inn owner Ruth May said she believes the shipments will delay and complicate efforts by her guests to get to her hotel east of Kooskia.

Others said they are concerned about the trucks occupying the public turnouts during the day, spaces normally used by anglers or rafting outfitters who need quick and easy access to the popular Lochsa and Clearwater rivers that parallel the highway.

“I think it’s putting my business, my home, my long-term investment in jeopardy,” May said.

The Idaho Transportation Department already has approved a traffic control plan submitted by the company, but it delayed issuing the permits pending the hearing’s outcome and a recommendation by hearing officer Duff McKee. The department appointed McKee to preside over the hearing, which was sought by opponents who challenged the decision to issue the permits.

The agency also is monitoring an Imperial Oil test run, which left Lewiston earlier this month but has caused some problems along the way. On the first night, the truck hauling a 500,000-pound load clipped and snapped a cable anchoring a high-voltage power line, setting off a chain reaction that shorted a power line and cut the electricity to 1,300 customers in the towns of Pierce and Wieppe.

The Imperial loads are following the same route used by ConnocoPhillips to get heavy equipment to its refinery in Billings, Mont. The first of four, 300-ton ConnocoPhillips shipments arrived in Billings earlier this month, completing a 65-day journey that was delayed by weather and mechanical malfunctions.

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