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ConocoPhillips, in new filing, questions megaload opponents

UPDATE: This story was updated at 5:10 p.m to reflect filings from the transportation department.

The Idaho Transportation Department on Jan. 13 filed a response to a group that opposes permits the agency wants to grant allowing ConocoPhillips to ship four large coke drums from the Port of Lewiston to the Montana line on U.S. 12. Opponents recently appealed a hearing officer’s recommendation that ITD approve the permits.

Opponents in recent hearings could not produce relevant evidence the loads would harm them, the department’s filing said. Most issues opponents raised are not relevant to the ConocoPhillips permits, such as loads other companies propose for the highway, ITD attorneys general Tim Thomas and Lawrence Allen wrote. The department can determine whether a particular load can be permitted but cannot prohibit a potential pattern of commercial use, they stated, and is not required to take tourism designations for roads into consideration.

“The four Conoco loads in question will have no more impact to Highway 12 and the surrounding area than any other over-legal load that has traveled Highway 12,” the Transportation Department’s filing reads in part. “If the intervenors wish to set new policy for the overall commercial use of Highway 12, the proper forum is in the federal and state legislatures.”

ConocoPhillips and hauling contractor Emmert International also filed a response to opponents’ appeal.

The companies, in a Jan. 12 brief filed with ITD, say the appeal not raise anything new. Opponents did not introduce much, if any, proper evidence to support their case and did not study the transportation plan thoroughly, the companies said. They also dispute opponents’ claim that Hearing Officer Merlyn Clark did not evaluate facts fully and properly.

ConocoPhillips spokesman Bill Stephens, in an e-mail to the Idaho Business Review, said the company hopes for a favorable and timely ruling, remains confident in its comprehensive plan to deliver the four shipments safely to a refinery in Billings, Mont., and looks forward to carrying out the plan as soon as possible.

ConocoPhillips said in its filing that delays must end, as the company must get two coke drums to Billings to repair a refinery that produces more than 7 percent of Idaho’s gasoline. The company is storing four coke drums at the Port of Lewiston, on Idaho’s western border.

ITD spokesman Adam Rush said department Director Brian Ness, who must approve the hearing officer’s recommendation, will review the appeal from the opponents and responses from ConocoPhillips as soon as possible. A time frame is not set for Ness’s decision, he said.

Kooskia residents Linwood Laughy and his wife, Borg Hendrickson, lead a group of 13 local residents and business owners who say the shipments will harm their interests and the region’s tourism economy. The section of highway follows the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers in a remote canyon that lacks overpasses – one reason ConocoPhillips prefers the route.

The opponents on Jan. 10 filed an appeal taking exception to Clark’s recommendation that Ness approve the permits. Clark said the opponents failed to present conclusive evidence they would be harmed, and that the department acted within state law in approving the transportation plan and permits.

ITD issued the permits last summer but suspended them during the opponents’ legal challenges in state court and department hearings.

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