JULY 1, 2010

Imperial Oil, ITD plan to move large loads on Highway 12

Opinion 1: Support

By Charlie Pottenger

   Before starting I wish to point out that my interests tend to focus on and favor conservation and wise use of all natural resources and economic developments that will benefit continuing economic strength.

   Monday Imperial Oil Company (IOC), a Canadian company in which Exxon-Mobil has a large interest, and the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) held meetings in Moscow and Lewiston to describe the plans they have developed to move about 207 very large and heavy loads from the port of Lewiston to the Montana state line over Highway 12.

   The structures and equipment being transported are destined to be installed in a new plant designed to economically process oil sands at a location 150 miles north of Edmonton, Alberta. If successful, well over a trillion barrels of oil will become available in Canada and perhaps another trillion additional barrels will become economically available in the Dakotas. These new resources will greatly reduce energy dependency on off-shore foreign oil and provide longer time to develop other energy resources.

   Locally, the movements of these large loads will cause some inconvenience. However, the benefits to all of our country will likely outweigh the sacrifice as increased oil availability retards rising energy costs. The movement will begin about November 2010 and extend until completed. There will be an interruption of equipment deliveries to Lewiston from December 2010 until March 2011 as the Army Corps of Engineers repairs three of the Snake River locks. It is expected the large load movements will continue as required over a period of about one year.

   Imperial Oil has developed a plan in cooperation with the Idaho Transportation Department to meet regulations, assure highway integrity, provide for safety and emergencies, and to minimize travel delays. To be sure there will be inconveniences as these loads will be huge. The largest will be up to 580,000 lbs (290 tons) including the load and transport truck. Load dimensions will range from 16 to 24 feet wide and 14 to 30 feet high, truly large loads. Road damage will be avoided because these special trucks and trailers will have eight tires per axle and many axles so that the maximum weight per inch of tire width will not exceed 500 lbs/in. A standard legal weight tandem trailer and tractor, at 90,000 lb maximum legal weight would have a tire loading of 568 lb/in. ITD will require each load to comply with permit conditions.

   The plan, as explained, will strive to move these loads in three stages, with each stage requiring one night to complete. Stage one will leave Lewiston at 10 p.m. and conclude at milepost 73.8 near Kooskia at 5:30 a.m.; Stage 2 will leave Kooskia at 11 p.m. and arrive at milepost 139 at 5:30 a.m.; and Stage 3 will begin at 11 p.m. and terminate at the Montana line at 2:30 a.m. There will be a maximum of two loads per stage per night.

   While in transit, IOC will utilize Idaho State Police to escort these loads and assist in providing safety and security for the traveling public. The ITD requires, for these large loads, that traffic delays be limited to 15 minute periods. This will be achieved by utilizing 58 prepared clearing locations which will allow held up traffic to get by before the load resumes travel. Also the late night movements will occur at times of minimum traffic.           

   Information on all drive ways, side roads, and effective pullouts has been developed to assure that emergency traffic can be accommodated. For example, if the load is moving at a time when an emergency occurs, then the State Patrol escort will advise the Transport Team. If there is no place where the load can clear a lane, then the nearest side road, driveway, or wide spot where the emergency vehicle can wait will be identified and the load will pull by as fast as possible. Talking with those that will be escorting these movements gave me reassurance that emergencies can be effectively handled with minimum delay.

   IOC transport team representatives said they have contingency plans for handling mechanical problems with their equipment such as truck or trailer problems. The biggest risk from my perspective would be blockage of the highway from a slide-off which might require special equipment to remove. The likelihood of such an event will be minimal if care is taken to avoid icy conditions. The loads will move at speeds from 10 to 30 mph.

   There are many who oppose this large load movement up Highway 12. Apparently they fear possible late-night restrictions on emergency vehicles, environmental disaster, or oppose fossil fuel energy development, oppose large businesses in general or do not want to inconvenience visiting tourists.

   I believe only two of these concerns are valid: Possible impediments for emergency access while loads are in transit late at night and potential tourist dissatisfaction. Both of these are minimized by the extreme late night movement when traffic is lighter. The emergency vehicle, whether public or private will be handled as described above and delay should be almost negligible, recognizing that any delay in such cases is regrettable.

   As to the fear of environmental disaster, IOC assured me that there will be no hazardous materials transported other than normal fuels and truck related materials.

   Personally, I strongly support this project. Since I regularly drive the Stage 1 stretch from Orofino to Lewiston late at night, I will surely enjoy many encounters with these huge transport trucks. I might even grumble a bit sometimes while I wait out the 15 minute delays (sort of like at Arrow Bridge right now), but always I will be proud to be in some small way participating in developing a trillion barrels of new oil!

Opinion 2: Opposition

By Borg Hendrickson and Linwood Laughy

   Like most Americans, Idahoans have been watching in dismay as Gulf fishermen’s families lose their livelihoods to British Petroleum’s oil gusher. Now, after at least two years of out-of-public-view planning among the Idaho Transportation Department, Port of Lewiston and the world’s most profitable corporation, Exxon Mobil, north central Idahoans could become Big Oil’s next victims.

   While securing $40-45 billion annual profits, Exxon Mobil hired South Koreans to build 207 mammoth equipment modules for shipment to Lewiston and, via U.S. Highway 12 and Montana highways, to Alberta, Canada. EM claims that in Idaho they will spend $12.6 million for utility and road modifications and transportation and calls these expenditures “economic activities.” To Exxon Mobil, they must be chump change.

   But this is recession-socked Idaho. In north central Idaho, particularly, with its double-digit unemployment, people eek out a modest living. Many own or work at one of more than 150 businesses, Lewiston to Lolo Pass, whose income partly hinges on tourism. Thanks to promotional efforts of community and business leaders, the area’s single growing industry is tourism, an industry that provides almost 5000 north central Idaho jobs and, according to ITD reports, reaps an annual $149 million in revenues. Those revenues contribute significantly to Idaho’s $3 billion tourism industry, ranked in 2008 as Idaho’s 2nd largest. If the rural families of Highway 12 are to hang on to their livelihoods, tourism must be protected.

   The U.S.12 corridor is unusually scenic and historical and is a paradise for outdoor recreationists – beach goers, 4-wheeler riders, hikers, snowmachiners, campers, backcountry horsemen, cross-country skiers, hunters, fishers, heritage tourists and many others. For years, the Clearwater River valley has been promoted as a tourism and recreation destination. As a result, the highway was nationally designated as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway and one of the nation’s 27 All-American Roads, identified as the nation’s #1 recreational motorcycle route (Motorcycle Magazine) and a segment of the Trans-America Bicycle Route, and its corridor is home to both the Lewis and Clark and Nez Perce National Historic Trails. The wild country to which the corridor provides access is part of the reason Lewiston was last year ranked 1st and this year 4th in the nation as the best town for sportsmen and women to call home. Three of the valley’s rivers are nationally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. Since 2002, the scenic byway designation alone has brought $2,347,836 to the corridor in the form of federal grants for byway enhancement.  In other words, the bottom line shows that the U.S.12 corridor is an exceptional place which the State of Idaho should protect and cherish for its intrinsic qualities and significant contribution to Idaho’s economy.

   Instead, very quietly, the State of Idaho, at the urging of the Port of Lewiston and giant oil corporations, has been planning to turn north central Idaho’s river valley highway into a permanent industrial truck route for the shipment of gargantuan loads. Exxon Mobil says it will ship at night when highway traffic is light. That may quell objections to the shipments, until you realize that ….

·   Thousands of residents and travelers will be sleeping in homes, motels and campgrounds when Big Oil’s bright lights and loud noise roll up the highway. Exxon Mobil alone plans 207 shipments, five nights a week, over a period of about nine months in 2010-2011. 

·   People rushing to Orofino and Lewiston emergency rooms in personal vehicles may sit in a traffic delay while an oil corporation shipment crawls towards its next pullout. 85% of Orofino emergency room arrivals come by personal vehicle, and about half of those via U.S.12.

·   Volunteer emergency personnel who live in the hills surrounding the highway may also be caught in a wait line as they try to reach the fire station or ambulance for quick response, or try to reach a medical emergency, highway accident, or fire.

·   Local and regular interstate commercial trucks will have a hard time meeting schedules when they, too, sit in wait lines up to six times per night between Missoula and Lewiston.

   How many tourists are likely to return for another middle-of-the-night dose of lights and noise? How many businesses do you know – perhaps your own – that count upon the intrinsic qualities of the U.S. 12 corridor to continue drawing tourists and recreationists? If U.S. 12 becomes known as an industrial mega-load truck route, how many local families would see incomes decline or lose livelihoods? Which river valley communities can afford to lose their piece of the tourism pie? And which can afford to lose their slice of the real estate cake? Surely the re-characterizing of the “scenic byway” as an “industrial mega-load truck route” won’t enhance river view property values.

   For years ahead gargantuan corporate shipments will ride the U.S.12 roadbed. Wider than 2 lanes, 3 stories tall, 3/4ths the length of a football field, and weighing half-a-million pounds, the shipments will move at 5-20 mph speeds in 3-night sequences to Lolo Pass. Although weight will be distributed over multiple axles, it seems predictable that damage will accrue to the narrow, winding roadbed designed to accommodate cars, pickups, light trucks, and standard commercial semi-trucks of 60-90 feet and up to about 90,000 pounds. In time, taxpayers will likely pay the repair tab and in effect directly subsidize the giant corporations’ transport projects.

   Considering that for miles of roadway there are broken shoulders, no shoulders, weak shoulders, or shoulders mere inches wide, with riverbank and rock faces on either side, it also seems likely that one of Big Oil’s giant loads will tip into the river or damage the roadbed or a bridge to the extent that the highway is blocked for hours, days, or weeks. Oil company plans do not explain how such accidents would be remedied. Like BP, the oil companies aiming to use U.S.12 expect Idahoans to think, “It just won’t happen.”

   On June 28, at the City Hall in Moscow (11 a.m.-1 p.m.) and Red Lion in Lewiston (4-7 p.m.), and on June 29 at City Hall in Kooskia (4-7 p.m.), you can ask questions of Idaho Transportation Department and Exxon Mobil personnel about their plans for using U.S.12 as a mega-load truck route. You can also leave written comments or send comments to , or to P.O. Box 7129, Boise ID 83707-1129, or submit comments via ITD’s “Contact Us” comments form at ITD’s comment deadline is July 14. To learn more about the transport projects, go to The Rural People of Highway 12 website