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ITD director: Conoco loads can roll

ConocoPhillips can ship four oversized loads from the Port of Lewiston to the Montana border on U.S. 12, starting Jan. 24. Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness issued a ruling accepting the go-ahead recommendation of a hearing officer.

The ruling allows ConocoPhillips to ship the four loads and concludes five months of court and administrative hearings. The ruling ends the administrative process from ITD’s standpoint, spokesman Adam Rush said in an interview.

The department planned to issue two permits Jan. 18 to transport two loads starting Jan. 24 if weather conditions allow. The permits can be extended if weather does not allow transport.

Ness stated the record showed ConocoPhillips can move the loads safely without damaging the road and bridges, and with minimal disruption to traffic and emergency services. Every argument has been heard and considered, and the process cannot be delayed further, he stated.

The administrative process was followed properly, he stated. All sides received a fair opportunity to present their case, an independent hearing officer recommended the permits be issued, and no compelling reasons were found in the intervenors’ appeal to overturn the hearing officer’s recommendation. He would not comment further because litigation is possible and there are similarities with a pending request by Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil to transport oversized loads on U.S. 12.

Kooskia resident Linwood Laughy and his wife, Karen “Borg” Hendrickson, led a group of 13 business and home owners who oppose the shipments. They have not decided whether to seek judicial review of Ness’s ruling or to pursue another course of action, Laughy said.

“We’re pleased the public has had the opportunity to learn a lot more about the state government’s plans for the Clearwater Valley,” Laughy said. “We think that’s a very positive outcome of this process. It’s kind of regrettable the thousands of people who oppose the megaloads have to work so hard to get their state agencies’ attention.” He referred to a petition the opponents circulated.

ConocoPhillips plans to ship four coke drums to a refinery in Billings, Mont., on U.S. 12 next to the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers. Opponents argued in hearings that the shipments would harm residents and business owners as well as the region’s tourism economy.

But Hearing Officer Merlyn Clark of Boise, a former Lewiston resident, wrote that the Transportation Department followed the law and that opponents’ claims were speculative. The company, the department and the opponents filed briefs after Clark issued his recommendation.

The hearings followed court action. A district judge in Grangeville overturned the permits, but the state Supreme Court said it lacked jurisdiction because the opponents did not exhaust administrative remedies.

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