Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter says he is confident that about 200 proposed shipments of oversized oil equipment along U.S. Highway 12 are being properly reviewed for safety and environmental concerns.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick has asked Otter to defer state approval of the route through north-central Idaho until a "widely advertised" public hearing has been held and the project "has been fully vetted."
Otter has taken calls at the office — and at home — from residents who object to the shipments scheduled to start later this year, the Lewiston Tribune reports. Still, the Republican governor is convinced the Idaho Transportation Department and other officials are taking heed of all relevant concerns, including possible accidents along the pristine Lochsa River.
Exxon Mobil Corp. aims to truck equipment from the port in Lewiston to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta. ConocoPhillips also plans four big equipment shipments from Lewiston to Billings, Mont., where the company has a refinery.
Despite the scale of the proposed loads — they could weigh up to 140 tons and be 170 to 210 feet long — the trucks will use multiple axles to distribute the weight. Otter expects that will keep potential damage to the highway at a minimum.
"The impact to the highway probably won't be any more than a 1-ton pickup," he said. "The weight would be the same as any noncommercial vehicle."
Adam Rush, spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department, says the state has yet to sign off on the shipments.
"We're still working on a transportation plan with Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips," Rush told The Associated Press.
The agency said it held three "highly publicized" hearings on the shipments in Lewiston, Moscow and Kooskia in late June, with 325 people attending. To date, 469 e-mails or letters have been received commenting on the shipments. A petition opposing the shipment with approximately 1,700 electronic signatures was presented to Otter.
The Idaho Transportation Department issues fewer than 10 oversized permits annually for U.S. 12, usually for grain silos, boats or wind turbine blades.
There have been no reported accidents involving oversized loads here in 15 years, but the Nez Perce Tribe is among groups that have objected to the oil-equipment shipments.
The route, starting from the Snake River port of Lewiston, follows the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers through 70 miles of the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho. In early July, the tribe's governing body passed a resolution against the project, joining others who fear potential environmental and safety consequences.
In a letter sent to Otter late last month, Minnick, a Democrat, wrote that residents of rural north-central Idaho rely on U.S. 12 not only for transportation, but also for vital services and business. He underscored the concern that approval of the shipments could lead to 20 years of continuous loads of oversized mining materials through the area.
"Does the cost of maintaining this new shipping route outweigh the potential economic benefits to the region and the state?" Minnick asked.
Capt. Lonnie Richardson, with the Idaho State Police in Lewiston, said the plan is for all vehicles and loads to be inspected before each trip. They would also be escorted by off-duty Idaho State Police officers, with negotiations in the works to make certain all costs are covered by the companies, including wages, mileage and gasoline.
Otter also said there could be economic opportunities associated with the oil equipment.
"What I'm interested in is, what would it take for the manufacturer to come to Lewiston and build those components," he said.
Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com