A company fighting for permission to move giant pieces of oil refinery equipment to Canada via a scenic two-lane road plans to downsize the so-called "megaloads" so they can be trucked on interstate highways.
Imperial Oil has been trying to get state permits to truck the 30-foot-tall factory modules from the port of Lewiston, Idaho, to Canada's oil sands, a plan that's run into permit delays and legal challenges from people who don't want the giant loads to clog U.S. 12 through Idaho and Montana.
The Oregonian reported Friday that the company now plans to reconfigure 33 loads into 60 shipments that would be small enough for to travel on Interstate 90 and other freeways.
The Korean-made modules are shipped to the port of Vancouver, Wash., and original plans called for barging them to Lewiston before placing them on special trucks for movement over the winding mountain highway. But Imperial Oil spokesman Jon Harding told the newspaper the company was tired of all the delays and was moving forward with smaller shipments that can fit under freeway overpasses and other obstacles.
Megaload critics pounced on Imperial's plan, saying it showed the company had misled Idaho officials who issued trucking permits last week on the belief that shipments could not be broken down for alternate routes. Opponents asked the Idaho Transportation Department to withdraw the permits.
"They spent 2010 telling the public, the Idaho Transportation Department and everybody that those loads were nonreducable, and they insisted there was no alternative route," said opponent Borg Hendrickson, who lives along the original route near Kooskia, Idaho. "They're being slowed down, and suddenly they find an alternate route."
Imperial, an Exxon Mobil Corp. subsidiary, has proposed moving 207 loads along U.S. 12 to Alberta, Canada, where the modules would be assembled into a factory at an $8 billion complex at the Kearl oil sands.
Oil-sands critics say the mining operations waste water and energy, emitting more greenhouse gases and pollutants than drilling for oil. Hendrickson said she knows little about the oil sands but doesn't want a wild and scenic river area turned into an industrial hauling corridor.
The megaloads are massive, taking up both lanes of U.S. 12. Imperial planned to move them at night to minimize traffic disruption, pulling over regularly in specially built turnouts.
Supporters of the megaloads are fighting back. On Wednesday, an Idaho legislator filed a bill that would impose bonding requirements on anyone who sued to block a highway shipment.
Earlier this week, plans to move a test shipment on U.S. 12 from Lewiston were canceled. But Harding said the company will continue trying to get permission to move megaloads on its preferred U.S. 12 route.
Port of Vancouver spokeswoman Teresa Wagner said Thursday that smaller, lighter loads had already been trucked. Four modules currently in Vancouver are small enough to go on interstates, she said.
"That shows there were other routes, and they can make these things smaller," said Laird Lucas, executive director of Advocates for the West, a Boise-based nonprofit lawyers organization. "They need to withdraw the permit, and everybody needs to get to the bottom of what's going on."
Winter weather, not opponents, delayed separate oversize loads in Kooskia this week. Emmert International, an Oregon heavy hauler, interrupted shipment of a gigantic refinery-drum component headed for a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, Mont.
Hendrickson and other opponents had earlier delayed the ConocoPhillips shipments but ultimately lost in court.
"We stopped ConocoPhillips for months," Hendrickson said. "And we have Imperial cutting up modules. I doubt they thought they would have resistance from rural people, but this effort speaks very deeply to our hearts and our values."
Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com