Idaho high court considers megaloads along Lochsa-Clearwater

Idaho Rivers United policy staff attended an Idaho Supreme Court hearing this morning where attorneys argued for and against mega load shipments of oil refinery equipment along the Wild & Scenic Lochsa and Clearwater rivers on U.S. Highway 12.

“The Highway 12 corridor and the Lochsa River are integral parts of Idaho’s ecological integrity and provide tremendous recreational opportunities for the people of Idaho,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “Allowing these forms of shipments would pose an unacceptable risk to these values.”

The 90-minute hearing included questions from Idaho’s five Supreme Court Justices posed to attorneys for ConocoPhillips, Idaho Transportation Department and Advocates for the West, the Boise-based law firm representing the interest of local citizens and business owners along Highway 12.

On Aug. 24 Idaho District Judge John Bradbury revoked the Idaho-issued permits that would have allowed ConocoPhilips to haul these massive loads of oil refinery equipment from Lewiston, Idaho, into Montana on Highway 12.

“Until Judge Bradbury’s decision, the concerns of thousands of Idahoans were ignored or dismissed by the Idaho Transportation Department as it rushed to permit these massive loads,” Lewis said. “Judge Bradbury carefully reviewed the record and ruled that ITD has failed to comply with its own operating rules. We hope the Idaho Supreme Court will see things similarly.”

In a July 14 letter to the transportation department, IRU challenged assertions by the agency that it was required to issue permits. In the courtroom on Monday, Aug. 23, ITD officials conceded for the first time publically in this process that issuance of such permits is discretionary rather than mandatory.

In addition, IRU raised the issue that issuing permits for these mega loads would cause excessive traffic delays that would be in violation of Idaho rules.

“This federally designated Scenic Byway and the Clearwater-Lochsa Wild and Scenic River corridor is not the appropriate route for these mega loads,” Lewis said. “These highly profitable oil companies should use existing routes, rather than mess up this pristine corridor. If Americans and Idahoans can’t protect the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers – two of America’s first Wild and Scenic Rivers – we probably can’t protect anything.

“This proposal must be held to the highest levels of legal scrutiny, and the judge has made clear that the Idaho Transportation Department has not done that.”

Judge Bradbury’s ruling was a result of a lawsuit brought by three north Idaho residents and litigated by Advocates for the West.