The decision to allow the megaloads to roll over U.S. 12 on their way to parts of Montana and Canada has to be seen as a positive move. After all, it’s just Idaho for 174 miles from beginning to end.
The narrow, two-lane road that winds along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers will only be impacted for a short time.
On Dec. 28, ITD Hearing Officer Merlyn Clark recommended ITD Director Brian Ness deny an appeal from intervenors who wanted to stop the ConocoPhillips company shipments. The denial will allow the loads, if Ness issues a final order, to be moved as soon as next month.
Throughout the court battle, appeals process and state Supreme Court decision, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter kept an arms length approach to the process, instead allowing the system to work. Keeping it from becoming a political circus, he has yet to step forward to endorse the decision to allow the megaloads through the Clearwater Valley.
Even the business community, except for the City of Lewiston, hasn’t stepped forward to apply pressure. That is until now:
“Drive Our Economy,” a task force of community, business and agricultural leaders, promotes economic strategies that benefit Idaho and Montana. Almost immediately following the decision, endorsements flowed from the group.
Alex LaBeau, President of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, said, “This decision validates the Transportation Department’s oversize permitting process as complete and thorough, with significant attention to public convenience and safety. In taking the side of local businesses and communities on this issue, Mr. Clark and the Department have sent the message that Idaho is open for business and the investment and jobs that result.”
Frank Priestley, President of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, continued, “It’s somewhat ironic that the activists argued, in part, that the loads should not be allowed on Highway 12 because it is an historical part of the Lewis and Clark Trail. Remember, Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark to find a COMMERCE route to the West. Highway 12 should remain open for commerce and the loads should be allowed to move immediately.”
Barry Stang, Executive Vice President of the Motor Carriers of Montana, continued, “Now the real test will occur. Activist groups intend to further interfere with these shipments by filing frivolous lawsuits, thereby generating more uncertainty for this unique economic opportunity in our region.”
The Port of Lewiston, no doubt, plays an important part in the state’s economy. The deep water access provides greater international access than other surrounding states. Its shipments bring in millions of dollars to the local economies and boost the state’s commerce.
What it all boils down to is money and jobs.
Sure, hundreds of travelers along the route will be displaced, but already, hundreds of “oversized,” “wide-loads,” “over-length” shipments pass through the Clearwater Valley on a nearly daily basis. ITD has approved such shipments throughout the entire year. Those shipments include everything from manufactured homes, structural beams and supports, wind turbine blades and more.
Idaho opened its gates to imports when the port was first established, and while the highway structure hasn’t kept pace with the size and number of shipments coming through the port, it’s difficult to close the door.
Keep the doors open on the Port of Lewiston.
Robb Hicken is managing editor of the Idaho Business Review.