Friday, April 29, 2011

Janice Inghram testifies at hearing

Megaload opponent Janice Inghram was the first witness to testify at ITD's Imperial/Exxon contested case hearing this morning. Janice spoke of the continual use she and her husband Roger Inghram make of U.S.Highway 12 for business and volunteer work, as well as for social and recreational purposes. She noted that once on the highway above Kooskia, she, Roger and anyone else on or alongside the highway has only one route to anywhere for any reason -- including emergencies -- and that route is U.S.12. If it is blocked by a megaload, she and everyone else traveling above Kooskia will be blocked from traveling west. She also noted that when she and Roger travel on the highway, as they frequently do, between Kooskia and the Selway River Road at Lowell, the ITD traffic counters, which are above Lowell and below Kamiah, do not count their vehicle. No vehicle that travels between those 2 counters is counted as part of the highway's traffic numbers. Janice noted that she travels that section of the highway 18-20 times per month most months of the year.

Following Janice's testimony, opponents' lawyer Natalie Havlina of Advocates for the West called 2 ISP officers to the stand. Among other topics, they testified about the number of officers available to serve as "overtime" escorts to the megaloads. They stated that there are 17 officer positions in the district, but 2 positions are vacant and 1 officer is in Iraq, leaving 14 available officers. They also noted that of the 14, some officers choose to not serve as escorts for megaloads, which further narrows the number of available officers. Of the 14, the number of ISP officers accompanying Imperial/Exxon's so-called "test validation" shipment is 4. Although ITD staff had testified yesterday that up to 3 of IO/EX's shipments could be on U.S.12 all at the same time, the ISP officers understood -- evidently erroneously -- that only 1 shipment could be on the highway at a time. The officers said that if 3 shipments are on the highway at the same time, ISP would not have enough officers to serve as escorts.

At 11:30 a.m. the hearing was adjourned until 9 a.m. Monday, when opponent Linwood Laughy will take the stand.

Contested Case Hearing: Imperial/Exxon, April 29, 2011

Yesterday's testimony at the ITD contested case hearing regarding Imperial/Exxon's 200+ megaload shipment permits got underway in the morning with witness Alan Frew of ITD. He, and later ITD's Dave Couch, testified about Imperial/Exxon's transport plan, including its traffic management plan, and ITD's permit approval process. Advocates for the West's lawyers Laird Lucas and Natalie Havlina represented the opponents.

With about 1 1/2 hours of the session remaining, Wild & Scenic Middle Fork Clearwater resident Vickie Garcia took the stand, and by day's end, the approximate dozen opponents present were calling her their "star witness." Vickie testified on the topics of inconvenience, safety, and megaload traffic management, which she had experienced firsthand. During the Kooskia-east leg of the first ConocoPhillips' shipment, Vickie and her husband Walt Bailey had traveled out on the highway to experience what being on the road during a shipment would be like so that should more shipments follow over months and years, they would know what to expect. During her testimony, Vickie showed a video she had taken out the front windshield of their car the snowy night of that leg of the shipment. The video gave the Judge and others in the room an opportunity to understand the chaotic nature of the ITD-approved traffic management and the risks to safety and convenience caused by that chaotic management.

Today's contested case session will begin at 9 a.m. at the ITD building, and first to take the stand will be opponent's witness Janice Inghram of Grangeville.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tree-scaping in the Wild and Scenic Corridor

Exxon hired an army of out-of-state tree trimmers to take to the Wild and Scenic corridor on Easter Sunday. Here are just a few pictures from the "tree-scaping". The top three pictures are along the Wild and Scenic Lochsa, the next two pictures are in the Devoto Memorial Cedar Grove and the last one is in the Wild and Scenic section of the Middlefork of the Clearwater river.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday Hack Job

Driving up Highway 12 to enjoy the Wild and Scenic Lochsa River Corridor on this Easter Sunday my family was shocked and saddened to see an army of tree trimmers hacking away on the beautiful old trees that line the highway. Trees that stood long before the highway was built are now being altered in a most un-aesthetic way to make way for an Exxon Test Module (one that is too large for the corridor and doesn’t even have a permit to proceed beyond Lolo Hot Springs!)

Frank Church and Cecil Andrus along with the U.S. Congress protected the Lochsa River Corridor for future generations of Americans with the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968 and now ITD and USFS are working hand in hand with Exxon/Mobil to undo those protections.

Anyone taking a Sunday drive upriver today or traveling home from a family gathering met with 40+minute delays as they were held behind flaggers and led haphazardly by a pilot car through a maze of tree-trimmers trucks.
What kind of transportation department schedules major road alterations on Easter Sunday?
Why wasn’t there any kind of notification on ITD’s website to inform the traveling public of the delays being experienced on Highway 12?
What kind of Forest Service allows for a nationally mandated Wild and Scenic corridor to be radically changed in a way that puts the trees that line the highway at increased risk of disease and weakens them to the affects of wind and snow damage?

This inane attempt of making Highway 12 into an over-sized shipping route must come to a stop. The time is NOW before anything worse happens. Already many of the concerns brought up by locals have come true – delays well over 15 minutes, trees along the highway damaged, power outages, pullouts blocked off to the public, the shipments not being able to make the trip in the time presumed, altering of the wild and scenic corridor and a highway shutdown - and all that after only 2 megaloads have made the full trip from Lewiston to Lolo Pass! What more has to happen before ITD acknowledges the truth? These loads are too large for Highway 12 and they place an unnecessary risk on the local citizens and businesses who rely on Highway 12.

Let’s stop this NOW before something worse happens. If one of these loads went into the river the damage to the riverbed would be devastating. Exxon has proven that they have not planned well for this transportation project. There are other options to get this equipment to Alberta. We do not need to sacrifice Highway 12. I encourage you to pick up the phone on Monday morning and call as many of the people on the following list as you can to express your concern and dismay at the disregard with which our government agencies are treating the public. The short-sightedness of those individuals charged with protecting the resources of the public must be addressed.

USFS:Craig Trulock, Lochsa Ranger Station (208)926-4274
Rick Brazell, Clearwater Natn'l Forest Supervisor (208)476-4541
Leslie Weldon, Regional Forester (406) 329-3470

ITD Director Brian Ness (208) 334-8876
Public Involvement Adam Rush (208) 334-8119
Darrell Manning – Chairman (208) 334-8808
Jim Coleman (208) 762-4704
Jan Vassar (208) 743-5093
Jerry Whitehead (208) 344-2539
Gary Blick – Vice Chairman (208) 537-6787
Neil Miller (208) 681-3172
Lee Gagner (208) 529-5600

If you’d like to call more people at ITD here is a link to the complete phone list:

Contested case hearing starts Monday, April 25th

The ITD contested case hearing related to the 207 Imperial/Exxon megaloads that were permitted but with a stay on Feb. 14th will begin at 9 a.m. on Monday, April 25th.

Hearing Dates: April 25-29th, with carryover May 2-6

Time: 9 a.m.- 4:30 Monday-Thursday and 9-11:30 a.m. Friday, with 1 1/2 hour lunch breaks

Place: Main Auditorium, ITD Building, 3311 W. State Street, Boise.

If you are going to be in the Boise area, we'll welcome your presence at the hearing.
Attending anytime and any length of time is okay; i.e., walking in and out is fine.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Enough is Enough

Yesterday, Big Oil said "cut all highway-side branches off the trees in the Wild & Scenic River highway corridor 32 feet up and 3 feet past the fog line, and the Clearwater National Forest looked the other way. See photo above of the beginnings of a rectangular tunnel being cut in the highway corridor's forest canopy.

Please let the CNF know exactly how you feel about such treatment of the Wild & Scenic corridor. Call or email:

Craig Trulock 208-926-4274

Rick Brazell, Clearwater National Forest Supervisor 208-476-4541

Leslie Weldon, Regional Forester Missoula

And guess what - after over 3 years of planning, over a week of incident review and recommendations and all the last minute tree trimming and both an Exxon press release and and ITD press release saying the were moving last night from mile 61 to 94 - Exxon once again didn't move!

Enough is enough. These loads are too big for Highway 12. The risks far outweigh the benefits to the residents and businesses of Highway 12.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Tale of Two Press Releases

A truck driver, traveler, or local citizen trying to make plans around the megaloads has their work cut out for them. Trying to figure out whether or not a megaload is actually going to be on the road on any given night is a struggle. Exxon’s Highway 12 website has a professional look but it lacks any real information on the status of the loads. The last information updated on the site is from April 12th. There have been numerous news stories since the 12th stating nights the Exxon Test Module planned to move but never any mention of them on Exxon's Highway 12 website. The most consistent way to find out if Exxon is moving it’s test module has been through ITD press releases.

Yet, ITD doesn’t seem that sure of what’s going on either. In a press release from earlier today ITD stated that Exxon was moving the test module tonight and that Mammoet had submitted a plan of recommendations to reduce the risk of further issues. Mr. Hoff is quoted as saying that the changes made by Mammoet will “help avoid any further . . . delays.” Yet late tonight ITD released a second shorter statement contradicting their first one. The Exxon Test Module was not going to move tonight due to concerns over power lines in Kamiah. Mammoet must have missed the power lines in Kamiah when they were making their recommendations to ITD. What else has Mammoet missed?

Here are the two press releases with a few significant lines highlighted:

#1: ExxonMobil test shipment resumes travel Tuesday night

BOISE - An ExxonMobil test shipment will resume travel on U.S. 12 tonight at 10 PDT after the Idaho Transportation Department accepted the company's corrective action plan, the Idaho Transportation Department announced.
The over-sized test load has been parked at milepost 61 about 12 miles west of Kooskia since April 12 after striking a guy wire above the highway during the first night of a scheduled three-night transport to the Montana state line.
The transportation department required ExxonMobil and its contract hauler, Mammoet, to submit an incident report and make recommendations on how to reduce the risk of further issues.
Changes made include:
Additional verifications of all overhead utilities from milepost 61 to the Montana state line to ensure adequate clearance;
Raising a power distribution line crossing the highway at milepost 75;
Additional verifications of all overhead utilities from the Port of Lewiston to milepost 61
Lead escort vehicles will watch for overhanging tree branches in addition to other overhead obstructions.
"The additional precautions will improve safety and help avoid any further problems or delays," said Doral Hoff, the transportation department maintenance engineer in Lewiston.
The test shipment will travel:
Tuesday night/Wednesday morning from milepost 61 to milepost 139.
Wednesday night/Thursday morning from milepost 139 to the Montana state line at milepost 174, then 7.5 miles into Montana. It will stop at a restaurant parking lot.

#2: Tonight's planned U.S. 12 ExxonMobil test shipment postponed

BOISE - An ExxonMobil test shipment scheduled to resume travel tonight on U.S. 12 was postponed, the Idaho Transportation Department announced.
Concerns about the load clearing two power lines in the Kamiah area prompted representatives of ITD, ExxonMobil and power provider Avista to agree to postpone the move.
"We want to be 100 percent certain there is adequate clearance and that the load moves safely," said Doral Hoff, the ITD maintenance engineer in Lewiston.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Exxon Fails First Test

Local citizens who rely on Highway 12 were told not to worry when they brought up their concerns to Exxon representatives at last summers open house. They were assured by the Kearl Oil Project spokesmen that Mammoet was the best shipper in the business. When asked about the specifics of the road and how these megaloads would handle things like rock faces, ice, landslides, soft shoulders, etc. the representatives seemed unfamiliar with the nature of Highway 12 and unable to give adequate answers. Instead of taking the concerns of local citizens seriously Exxon spent time and money on a PR campaign to make it look like this project would benefit the local economy while ignoring the many ways this transportation project could hurt the area.

Now, almost a year later, on the first night of the Exxon's Test Validation Module there were problems. The Exxon megaload hit a guy wire that knocked the power out to 1,300 homes and shut the highway down for over an hour.

ITD has asked the shipper, Mammoet, to address the problems from last night before they continue their journey. I would like to ask ITD to consider this transportation plan from the point of view of local residents who rely on Highway 12. Knocking out power and shutting down the highway are minor issues compared with what could happen with these loads. But even these types of minor problems could result in a life or death delay for someone racing to the hospital.

We've learned over the past year that there are other routes available to these megaload modules. We've learned they can be broken down into smaller units and shipped on alternate routes. We've also learned that these megaloads can be made on site in Alberta. So why does ITD and Exxon continue to push for an unsafe use of Highway 12?

Here's more info on Exxon's trouble Monday night:

Big rig test module hits wire, cuts power to 1,300 homes, businesses off Highway 12 by Kim Briggeman, Missoulian, 4/12/11
The big blue megaload that a Canadian oil company says will validate its plan to send many more up U.S. Highway 12 in Idaho and Montana got off to a rough start.

The 30-foot-high load hit a guy wire near Orofino, Idaho, early Tuesday, setting off a sequence of events that led to power outages in some 1,300 area homes and businesses for almost five hours, and causing the highway to be closed for an hour.

It happened around 1:45 a.m., a few hours after the big rig struck and broke off a giant tree branch near the Lewiston Rose Garden as it left town. The branch was 10 inches in diameter and 20 feet long. No traffic delays resulted.

Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil's practice load finished the night parked 13 miles short of its designated stopover near Kooskia. It appeared the plan to make the 182-mile trip to Lolo Hot Springs in Montana by Thursday morning was off....ITD ... said Mammoet would not be allowed to proceed with the move until [an investigative] report had been received and approved.

"When we're working with haulers and shippers, our approach is to have an exchange of information with them and to improve transportation plans moving forward," Rush said. "We don't like to levy fines right from the get-go or flat out deny people permits, but we do ask them to make changes.".... Read more:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Exxon Test Module Postponed Once Again - Locals Recommend Megaloads Stay Off Fragile Highway 12

The first mention in the press of an Exxon megaload test module came in the fall of 2009. The test run was postponed until the spring of 2010, early summer, late summer and eventually fall of 2010. At the start of 2011 Exxon and ITD started putting out specific dates – February 22nd, February 28th, March 7th, March 28th and most recently April 4th. The reasons have varied over the course of the past year and half as to why the test module hasn’t been run. Yet the fact remains – Highway 12 is ill-suited to to be a megaload transportation route.

If you still think these loads have a future on Highway 12, I recommend you drive the route today. Look at the signs of rockfall and landslides – both large and small along the route. Notice the extra large potholes that have surfaced since the two Conoco loads labored over the route. Then look to the side and check out the river. With steady ran for the past week on top of better than average snowfall the creeks are all flowing at top capacity feeding the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers into a frenzy. These are not the conditions to “test” out loads 200 tons over the national weight limit standard setfor interstate highways. Even with the weight distributed over numerous axels the pressure on the highway bed is much greater than that of a normal semi-truck. What effect will those weights have on the roadbed? How will pullouts that were not built to handle loads anywhere near this size hold up in these conditions? How does driving such a load at slow speeds with the increased noise and vibration affect all ready unstable hillsides? And what happens if there’s any kind of major problem?

These questions and many others were raised by local citizens at the informational meetings held in Kooskia last summer. Residents were told that Mammoet was the “best in the business” and that Highway 12 was the only route these modules could take. Since then we’ve learned that Mammoet had two accidents on dry, wide roads in the past year and that many of the modules can be broken down into smaller shipments as is evidenced by the work currently taking place at the Port of Lewiston. The representatives for Exxon/Imperial showed a general lack of knowledge relating to the nature of Highway 12 – they seemed unaware of snow and ice that covers the upriver section of the road for much of the winter as well as the risk of avalanche, the spring run-off and the landslides and rockslides that often accompany it as well as the large volume of summer traffic.

The best business decision Exxon can make at this point is to pack up those loads, ship them back down the Columbia and take the traditional route – through the Gulf of Mexico and up the central U.S. Had Conoco done that when they first ran into trouble their shipments would have arrived in Billings long ago.