Advocates for the West: Highway 12 plaintiffs seek hearing on Exxon shipments

BOISE — Three north Idaho residents filed a strongly worded petition this week asking the Idaho Transportation Department to deny ExxonMobil’s proposed 207 megaload shipments across the state on Highway 12.

Petitioners Linwood Laughy, Borg Hendrickson and Peter Grubb — the same three plaintiffs whose case against ConocoPhillips is being considered by the Idaho Supreme Court — filed their petition for a contested case hearing with ITD on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

The petition seeks both a hearing and subsequent denial of Exxon’s sought permits.

“Seeking a contested case hearing with ITD is about assuring the public’s right to make public interests known and about unveiling the secrecy behind a public agency’s dealings with giant international oil companies,” Hendrickson said.

The filing was made as the issue continues to gather more regional and national attention. Signatures from 3,767 people, including more than 3,000 Idahoans, have been collected for a petition addressed to ITD calling for the agency and Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter to deny the megaload permits. 

But Grubb said the fact that Idaho officials have known about these plans for close to two years doesn’t give much assurance.

“The plan, if it proceeds, is a sure win for big oil and Korean industry and a big loss for Idaho and the Highway 12 and Clearwater River corridor,” he said. “I hope the people of Idaho will be even more galvanized in their resolve to bring this issue and ITD’s permitting process to the public scrutiny and accountability it deserves.”

A contested case hearing is a forum in which state agencies can administratively moderate disputed issues, said Advocates for the West attorney Natalie Havlina. 

“ITD has ignored a number of public concerns that were expressed in written comments,” Havlina said. “A contested case hearing would give the public an opportunity to present testimony and other evidence of their concerns in a more formal environment. Resulting decisions are appealable to a court of law.” 

Laughy reiterated that public scrutiny is both sought and needed.

“ITD should not have the authority to unilaterally alter this designated Northwest Passage Scenic Byway and Wild & Scenic River corridor,” Laughy said. “Idahoans and all Americans deserve the facts in this matter, and a contested case hearing will put those facts in plain public view.”

On Thursday, Oct. 14, ExxonMobil’s Korean-made modules began arriving at the Port of Lewiston. However, the company has not yet obtained necessary permits to transport the modules across Idaho en route to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. Four ConocoPhillips megaloads have been stored at the port since May, and the Idaho Supreme Court is currently deciding whether or not to overturn a district judge’s prior decision to revoke the ITD-issued permits that would have allowed their transport.

“With growing national attention to the planned conversion of Idaho's Highway 12 into an industrial trucking route for massive loads of equipment, Idaho's role in this process is receiving increased scrutiny,” Laughy said. “A contested case hearing will ensure the proposed Exxon loads are subjected to the high level of public scrutiny they deserve.”