Judge Allows MDT to Issue Permits for Megaloads

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A state judge has issued an order that allows Montana officials to determine whether to open U.S. Highway 12 from Lolo Pass to Missoula to large loads of equipment bound for an oil sands project in Canada.

District Judge Ray Dayton modified a preliminary injunction and now says Montana’s Department of Transportation can review and permit Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil loads to travel on the two-lane route to Missoula. From Missoula, the loads would likely travel to Alberta via interstate highways.

The oil company proposed downsizing the shipments and moving them to interstate highways after the injunction was issued in July. The company said it would not need any more turnouts to adhere to Montana’s rule that traffic delays be no longer than 10 minutes.

“In light of the newly proposed route with Imperial Oil seeks to transport reduced and reconfigured (Kearl Module Transportation Project) loads, the court finds that modification of the preliminary injunction order is warranted,” Dayton wrote Thursday. “The fact that no new turnouts will be constructed mitigates plaintiffs’ concerns regarding the potential creation of a permanent high-wide corridor.”

Missoula County and three environmental groups sued to stop the transports, arguing the state approved an insufficient environmental assessment.

Deputy Missoula County Attorney James McCubbin said the county does not plan to file an objection to the judge’s ruling, but will move forward with a motion for summary judgment.

Dayton scheduled a hearing on the permanent injunction for Jan. 6.

Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser said Friday the company was pleased with the ruling, but he added the original route, which calls for hauling larger loads on two-lane highways all the way to Canada, is still the preferred route.

Jean Curtiss, chairwoman of the Missoula County commission, questioned the grounds on which Dayton based his decision, especially given the recent movement of Nickel Brothers oversized loads bound for Canada.

“It’s going to be a high-wide corridor, a permanent industrial corridor because there’s just truck after truck after truck coming through here, for all kinds of projects,” Curtiss said.

Rolheiser said all of the equipment manufactured in South Korea for the Kearl Oil project has arrived in the United States at ports in Lewiston, Idaho and Pasco and Vancouver, Wash. About 70 loads have arrived in Alberta. Imperial Oil had some of the later modules built so they could be more easily reconfigured for interstate travel, if needed.

The Kearl Oil project is expected to be online late next year and Rolheiser said the $10.5 billion first phase of the project is about 70 percent complete.

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