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With the first oversized shipment of ConocoPhillips oil equipment scheduled to leave the Port of Lewiston late tonight on its trek down Highway 12 to Billings, Montana, the cofounders of the Idaho-based citizens' movement against the shipments have expressed a mixture of fatigue, dismay and resolution. Linwood Laughy and his wife, Borg Hendrickson, say they’ve learned a lot from the struggle. But not every lesson was uplifting. “One of the things I’ve learned is that being a citizen activist is challenging, gut-wrenching, exhausting and worth doing,” said Laughy. “It’s shaken my faith, I guess, in the American democracy. It seems to me we’re quickly becoming a plutocracy.” “I wouldn’t call it a plutocracy, although in part it is,” Hendrickson said. “I would call it a corporatocracy. And we’re getting a first-hand picture of that right here.”

As Megaloads Roll, What Two of Three Plaintiffs Learned About Opposition

With the first oversized shipment of ConocoPhillips oil equipment scheduled to leave the Port of Lewiston late tonight on its trek down Highway 12 to Billings, Montana, the cofounders of the Idaho-based citizens’ movement against the shipments have expressed a mixture of fatigue, dismay and resolution.

Linwood Laughy and his wife, Borg Hendrickson, say they’ve learned a lot from the struggle. But not every lesson was uplifting.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that being a citizen activist is challenging, gut-wrenching, exhausting and worth doing,” said Laughy. “It’s shaken my faith, I guess, in the American democracy. It seems to me we’re quickly becoming a plutocracy.”

“I wouldn’t call it a plutocracy, although in part it is,” Hendrickson said. “I would call it a corporatocracy. And we’re getting a first-hand picture of that right here.”

Laughy and Hendrickson, two of the three plaintiffs who challenged the shipments in court, said they were taken aback by how the system worked. “An Idaho state agency, without a single public hearing, has the power to reconfigure the nature of an entire river valley,” said Laughy. “That’s been a tough lesson for me to learn.”

Hendrickson expressed frustration that regional Forest Service officials made no actual effort to protect the highway’s famed recreational and environmental values from the megaloads. She acknowledged that agency officials wrote letters opposing the shipments, but said they also gave permission to widen the narrow, twisting road, install retainer baskets in the riverbank and remove vegetation. “They have not done anything in terms of an act that defends the Wild and Scenic River corridor.”

Hendrickson and Laughy, along with 11 other intervenors against the Conoco loads, announced recently they would not pursue further options to halt the four shipments. However, they intend to contest proposed shipments by other companies, including 207 megaloads that Imperial Oil, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, wants to bring from Lewiston through Montana to the massive Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada.

“We have limited resources and we need to look at where they can be used to our best advantage to prevent conversion of Highway 12 into a high-and-wide corridor for megaloads,” Laughy explained.

He emphasized that the intervenors against Conoco had not exhausted their options, but had made a “strategic decision” to turn their attention toward other potential shipments, particularly those of Imperial Oil. All 13 intervenors intend to mount a legal challenge to that company’s plans.

Last week, more than 100 of the almost 4,000 citizens who signed a petition against the shipments carried signs and placards of protest along a public road around the Conoco coke drums at the Port of Lewiston. This week, a few people intend to monitor the loads through Idaho, looking for infractions of the permits’ regulations, such as not staying between the fog lines or causing traffic delays of more than 15 minutes.

The couple said they didn’t know how many people would be involved in the monitoring, but it would not be a large number, and there would be no interference with the shipments. “We’re going to be engaged in the legal activity of driving,” Hendrickson said.

The first shipment is expected to take four days to reach Lolo Pass from Lewiston. The second shipment is scheduled to leave Lewiston on Saturday night. The last two loads are not expected to leave the port until around mid-March.

These four shipments were allowed through a hearing process, not through the decision of a judicial court, which is why Imperial Oil’s proposed 207 shipments loom as the next court battle.

Last summer, an Idaho district court judge ruled on legal grounds in favor of halting the Conoco shipments, but that decision was set aside in the fall by the state supreme court, which determined that courts had no jurisdiction, because prescribed procedures for formally contesting decisions of the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) had not been followed.

In November, an attorney appointed by ITD director Brian Ness presided over an informal hearing on the issue, after which he recommended that permits for the four shipments be issued. Ness followed with his recommendation.

The first 34 of the 207 Imperial Oil modules were barged to Lewiston before the Columbia/Snake River system was closed Dec. 10 for repairs to the locks. River traffic will recommence around mid-March.

Laughy expressed curiosity about the Montana government’s failure thus far to complete an environmental assessment of the proposed Imperial loads that it instigated last summer, which must be done before permits can be issued.

“That’s curious to us,” he said. “What’s holding that up? But meanwhile, Imperial Oil cannot construct the turnouts until it’s been determined there be no significant environmental impact.”

Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, has said 53 new turnouts must be constructed to accommodate the oversized shipments and 22 others must be paved between Lolo Pass and the Port of Sweetgrass at Montana’s border with Canada.

Another battle could arise against Harvest Energy, which has expressed a desire to ship 40 oversized loads via Lewiston to the Alberta tar sands. Early this year, Canada’s Harvest Energy became 100 percent owned by the state-run Korea National Oil Corporation.

Referring to state troopers who accompany megaloads through Idaho, Laughy remarked, “I find it particularly interesting that our state could be contracting out our police to the South Korean government.”

With regard to megaloads, in general, and Highway 12, the couple foresees a long drama.

“What we’ve been going through, particularly these last few months, has truly been a dress rehearsal,” Laughy predicted.

“We do recognize that it may be a very long battle,” Hendrickson agreed, “perhaps significantly longer than what we’ve done already, and it may get beyond the two of us at some point, but it will still be there.”

Laughy declared he and Hendrickson could leave the state now without any diminution in the will of the citizens’ opposition to megaloads. “With the help of many others, we’ve started a fire,” he said. “It’s burning out there.”

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15 comments

  1. there are so many reasons these shipments are a bad idea here are few:
    1. they ship much needed steelworkers jobs overseas. this equipment can be made in alberta as well as in the u.s.
    2. the port needs federal taxpayer money in order to make upgrades to accomodate these loads. therefore we, the american tax payers are subsidizing two of the largest multi-national corporations.
    3. there are numerous existing laws in place to protect the physical quality of the road (e.g. legal load limits) and the scenic quality of the road (National Wild & Scenic, All-American By-Way) that are being ignored.
    4. the barricading of pullouts by these multi-national corporations affects the publics access to national forest land, blocks off access to fishing spots and it blocks off important emergency stop spots for travelers.

  2. I work in the trucking industry, although not for either of the companies involved with the Conaco or Imperial Loads. I’ve kept a close eye on the proceedings in Idaho & Montana, out of curiosity. I don’t agree with Sandy’s comments and would like the poeple reading here to get factual information:

    1. There are approx. 800 modules required for the Kearl Oil Sands Project, 600 of which are currently being built in Alberta. So in reality 75% of the modules are built in North America.

    2. Any infrastructure improvements required to ship this equipment, would very likely be paid for by the oil companies. I have been involved in other projects that required road improvements etc., and it is always paid for by the companies shipping the equipment. In the end taxpayers, get improvements to infrastructure for free.

    3. In order to obtain a trucking permit in any jurisdiction, you must follow the legal axle weight requirements. This would be no different for these large loads, the transport companies would use more axles and wheels, so that all weight restrictions are strictly followed. FYI – more damage is caused to a highway surface by gravel & logging trucks, than the type of trucks that haul these loads (beleive it or not). As for the scenic quality of the road, I have travelled on US12 it is a very beautiful drive, but I fail to see how these loads will affect that. From what I have read, they will only travel this portion at night, under strictly supervised conditions.

    4. Barricading of the pullouts, would need to be done so that the public traffic can be kept safe during the oversized transport. This way the load has a safe place to pull over and allow traffic to pass. I’m certain the barricading of the pullouts would only be allowed on a temporary basis (maybe a few hours prior to starting for the night, until the load passes by).

    From what I have read, the transport of these large loads will generate a lot of money for all types of local industries, from the Dock workers, Traffic control companies, local Restaurants, hotels, powerline workers, highway workers, etc. There are a lot of positives to this type of activity, with very little local negative impact.

    Facts are very important when trying to make an informed decision, so I hope that what I have said helps inform people that otherwise may not have access to the truth.

  3. It is absolutely insane to think we can allow these rigs to drive this road without catastrophic environmental consequences- not to mention human injury. I would also like to exercise my right to drive the road, along with a co-pilot and a video camera, to monitor the reality of what these rigs do on the roads. If there’s anyone out there reading this who’s organizing this sort of action- let me know!
    melroad@hotmail.com

  4. I’m all for factual information too Brad which is why I disagree with your assessment. You may not be involved with the loads but maybe you work in the office for Imperial. . .?
    In response to your points:
    1. All the loads should be made in North America.
    2. You say that the road improvements “would very likely be paid for by the oil companies” While they and you want to portray that – the reality is that any long term damage sustained by these loads will fall to the taxpayers.
    3. these loads push the legal axel limits. washington state DOT study shows that overweight loads increase the wear and tear on roads/bridges exponentially
    4. WHy does the public have to be kept safe?? I thought these were safe loads? FYI ITD is allowing pullouts to be barricaded up to 24 hrs before the loads roll – with loads going almost every night for Imperial that pretty much means the pullouts can be barricaded all summer.

    I respectfully disagree with your assumption about all the income to be generated. From all the reading I’ve done I think the negatives outweigh the positives.

    I think your last comment about people not having access to the truth is a bit over the top. With all the articles that have been written about this issue as well as all the information that’s on line about this subject I find it ironic that you think you’re comments somehow shed new light on this project. Just cuz you say it’s factual doesn’t mean it is.

  5. The human part of the equation always seems to be able to muscle out all other parts of the equation – often, but not always, like bullies on the playground. The other parts of the equation being – everything not manmade that can be parceled together as “Nature”.

    We are a part of the natural world – since, to date, we are not all being created in test tubes. And if we were being created in test tubes natural material would still be needed.

    But as that part, where has any human obtained the idea that all humans have more value than all the other parts that make up our world. That we and only we have the right to push aside all other parts of the natural world.

    While it is true that there are some laws dictating that we must be considerate of all the other parts of the natural world in some places in this country, in spite of those who love to crash through fragile areas to recreate (how is that, exactly re creating?),
    in general there is the attitude of the landowner over his slaves – taking what he wants when he wants it from the women – or in this case the land – without any consideration for consequences.
    Money, power, money, power, — the song goes on.
    The question is here – In how many cases is it a swan song for beauty or a species or the quality of life for the world around us.

    We are stealing from the pockets of nature and aren’t repaying one penny.

    Greed wins.

  6. What astounds me is the absolute arrogance of the oil companies.

    They built huge products overseas, moved them to an inland port, and assumed that this was a slam dunk before even applying for trip permits.

    These coke drums should have, at the very least, been built so that they could have been transported on the interstate highways and assembled on site.

    As to the DOT’s of both Montana and Idaho, it would seem that what the people want is not even considered.

  7. Laughy hasn’t fooled anyone. I find MikeM’s judgment on him harsh and unfounded. Those of us who are opposed to these loads are not ignorant of the facts.
    Those who support the loads split their time between making false claims and trying to tear down the opposition down with emotionally charged rhetoric.
    THese loads are too large for Highway 12. The loads have already scraped rocks in the canyon between Orofino and Kamiah – what will happen when they get into the tighter Lochsa canyon?

  8. The Idaho Legislature needs to take a closer look at loop holes that permit obstruction of commerce for frivolous reasons based on personal animosity against certain companies and discrimination against vehicles deemed too big and too ugly, instead of legitimate environmental threats like potential toxic spills or uncompensated, permanent damage to the road. Commerce and Industry should work up some legislation to bring forward.

  9. The Idaho Legislature needs to take a closer look at loop holes that permit obstruction of the current commerce on highway 12 as well as obstruction of public access to the highway and pullouts by certain multi-national corporations that want special access to our highways and want to us our own state police to enforce this special privilege.
    This equipment can be made in America or it could be shipped on the traditional route through the Gulf of Mexico or it could be broken down into smaller pieces and transported the same way the rest of the truckers in the U.S. have to haul it – in a size and shape that doesn’t shut down a highway.

  10. ITD issued over 64 thousand over-legal permits statewide in fiscal year ended in June 30. Transportation companies continue to get permits to haul over-legal loads on U.S. 12 even as debate rages over whether the remote, river-adjacent highway should be used for Big Oil Companies to transport extraordinarily large loads from the Port of Lewiston. ITD has not placed a moratorium on over-legal permits of shipments on U.S. 12 because of the hearings. Amusement rides, silos, manufactured home halves, bridge sections and an airport ramp are among 164 single us, over-legal load permits ITD issued for U.S. 12 from January through November. Oversized farm and excavation equipment, including oversized tanks and sheds are still be moved over U.S. 12 routinely.

  11. I have issued this challenge on several forums, and have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.

    Is there anyone out there who has an actual engineering or environmental study that gives a real and solid reason why these loads shouldn’t be permitted?

    I’m not talking about quality of life issues, traffic patterns etc. That is all subjective. I want hard data. I keep on hearing hysterics about environmental catastrophe, but not a peep about any hard data to support that.

  12. There is no hard data because its all based on fear mongering and generating mega load loathing hysteria.

  13. No EA is required in Idaho. But here are some environmental concerns: damage to salmon spawning beds if a load fell into the river. The altering of the Wild and Scenic corridor if rock faces need to be dynamited to remove a load that gets stuck. The long term change to the corridor if it’s allowed to become an over-sized route – widening of the road, loads parked inside the corridor on a regular basis. This route becoming the main artery to and from the tar sands – with increased tanker truck traffic heading west to China and Korea.

    Those people opposed to the loads took the information that the transportation company put out – the speeds the loads could travel and the mile markers between the traffic clearing stations and did some basic math. What they came up with was that the traffic would be delayed for more than 15 minutes in numerous places along the route.
    So far the first load is only half way across the state and already there have been 4 delays over 15 minutes – one of those being 59 minutes long.

    The other information they took was the width of the load. Then went out and measured the road and found numerous places were there wasn’t enough clearance space due to rock faces. The load has already scraped one rock face between Orofino and Kamiah. The road gets narrower as you head through the Wild and Scenic corridor.

    The engineering report used was from the Washington Department of Transportation. It shows over-legal limit weight loads – even when spread over numerous axels – damaged the road bed at an exponential rate to normal semi-loads.
    These are just a few of things that have concerned local citizens.

    ITD HAS NEVER ISSUED A PERMIT FOR A LOAD THIS LARGE ON HIGHWAY 12.

  14. Sandy, thank-you for your well thought out response. I have a few things to say in response to that.

    1. Widening a road is not detrimental, it is an improvement in any circumstance. It can be done with minimal impacts, and indeed is done so all the time.

    2. Blasting rock to make more room for loads is precisely how the road was made in the first place. If that corridor was THAT wild and scenic, there wouldn’t be a road there in the first place. Again, I see no damage here.

    3. The use of that road as a major corridor is the way it goes. If you don’t want people driving on a road, don’t build the road. My taxes pay for that road too, you don’t own it. (That isn’t necessarily my opinion, but it’s just as valid as yours. It’s just an opinion)

    4. I agree that the delays could become a worrisome issue.

    5. I would like to actually read that Washington engineering report for myself. I have a bit (tiny bit) of an engineering background and have a few questions. The only exponential number I know of in road damage calculations comes from speed not weight.

  15. Thank you so much Mr. Boggs for responding to me in such a reasonable way. I acknowledge that I’m against these loads but am doing my best to stick to facts and explain my point of view as a local resident who relies on Highway 12 for business and family needs and listen to those with opposing views. I am happy that anyone in the area is profiting financially from these loads but I’m concerned that long term our area will suffer economically if it’s turned into any oversized shipping route.

    You have a point about road widening, but I also think those who speak to keeping 12 as Wild and Scenic as possible also have a point. The Wild & Scenic designation came right after the road was completed so it could easily be interpreted as part of the original intent of the highway. Since there are other options to get this equipment to the site I don’t believe we as Americans should have to give up one of our national treasures to further the profits of Conoco or Exxon.

    My concerns have more to do with the way these large corporations are trying to get special access to the highway. The nightly rolling shut downs of the highway, pullouts barricaded to residents, tourists and semi-trucks so they can’t pullover to rest or recreate and our already understaffed police officers being hired out to multi-national corporations. Since this equipment can be made in the U.S. or Canada there’s also the whole issue of exporting jobs. Since the Port of Lewiston needs $11 million from the feds for upgrades to make the port viable for these mega-loads we’re subsidizing this new transportation route. In 2009 there was some road widening done that the tax payers paid for – we were told it was to make the road safer but since then we’ve found out that ITD was in talks with Exxon at the time and Exxon needed the road to be wider.

    When locals raised concerns about the delays these loads would cause we were treated to a PR campaign that was heavy on glitz and light on substance.
    The fact that there have already been delays concerns me about the other information they’ve put out – especially related to accidents. Since they were wrong about being able to travel in the time frame they originally stated why couldn’t they be wrong about the safety issues as well?

    I don’t have an engineering background and am not trying to say i know for sure that these loads will cause problems to the road bed and the bridges but from my knowledge of twenty years of driving highway 12 it leads me to believe that that many loads of that magnitude will create problems for the road bed and the bridges.

    Gov. Otter recently commissioned a transporation report which showed that passenger cars pay more highway related taxes and do considerably less damage to the road than semi’s.
    According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, axle loads of 40,000 lbs produce 16 times as much wear and tear on a highway surface and subsurface as do legal axle loads of 20,000 lbs. With axle weights of the megaloads between 32,000 and 45,000 lbs., the accelerated wear and tear on Highway 12 will affect tax payers.

    I could go on but mostly I want people to know that there has been a lot of mis-information on these loads. It doesn’t need to be a divisive issue – the more we can we find common ground the better for everyone. Thanks.