ConocoPhillips Company has won the contested case hearing concerning its application for permits to haul four oversized shipments of oil equipment from Lewiston to Billings.
Merlyn Clark, the attorney appointed as a hearing officer for the proceedings, which were held Dec. 8 and 9 in Boise, issued his decision on Tuesday in favor of Conoco. In a 57-page document, he recommended that the appeal of 13 citizens who were intervenors in the case should be denied, and the permits should be issued to Conoco by the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD).
Clark’s recommendation will become final when ITD director Brian Ness takes the expected action of affirming the decision.
Clark’s document gives a detailed summary of the steps taken by ITD, Conoco, and the contracted trucking company, Emmert International, to ensure that the loads, which will take up both lanes of the road prized for its scenic, cultural, and tourism values, will be transported safely and without undue delay to other travelers. It also establishes the wilderness and cultural values of the highway, but in significantly less detail.
Clark wrote that the state administrator who initially granted the permits, Idaho Division of Motor Vehicles head Alan Frew, was justified in concluding that U.S. Highway 12 is “the only viable option” for transporting the drums, a decision based on information supplied by Emmert International. “It is reasonable for him to rely on factual information supplied by Emmert,” Clark wrote. He later added, “In this case, given the height of the coke drums, and based on its institutional knowledge of Idaho’s highways, ITD reasonably concluded that Highway 12 was the only route that would accommodate the dimensions of the four loads.”
Concerning debate over whether Idaho’s regulations limit traffic delays by overlegal loads to 10 minutes, Clark sided with the arguments of Conoco and ITD officials and lawyers that “frequent passing of vehicles traveling in the same direction” is all that is legally required. Frew had determined that 15-minute delays were acceptable in some places along the route, and Clark wrote, “I am persuaded that Emmert will be able to avoid delaying traffic more than 15 minutes.”
He later added that relevant sections of Idaho regulations neither include nor define the term “delay,” and no specific time limitation is associated with the word.
The intervenors’ arguments that the safety and convenience of the general public had not been adequately considered were dismissed by Clark, who extensively quoted and agreed with assertions made by Frew in a memorandum he wrote on his decision to grant the permits. In that memorandum, Frew characterized various concerns of the intervenors, such as diminished scenic values, damage to the tourism industry, and potential delays in emergency services as “subjective” or “hypothetical.”
“The evidence in the administrative record supports the administrator’s findings,” Clark wrote.
Clark also quoted Frew’s comment in the memorandum, “If the circumstance arises that the number, type, and scope of permits requested rises to the level of impacting the safety and convenience of the traveling public or the preservation of the highway system, it may be necessary for ITD to take appropriate action to address those issues.”
Again, as on numerous other points, Clark wrote that the evidence in the record supported Frew’s findings.
The two leading citizen opponents in the case, Linwood Laughy and his wife, Borg Hendrickson, issued a statement expressing their disappointment on behalf of all 13 intervenors and saying they are evaluating their next steps. They stressed that the ruling affects only four coke drum shipments by Conoco.
The group previously submitted a request to ITD to intervene in a contested case regarding Imperial Oil’s proposed 207 tar sands module shipments along U.S. 12.
By law, a petition for reconsideration of Clark’s recommendation in the Conoco case may be filed within 14 days.