Advocates for the West: Hwy 12 plaintiffs seek hearings on Conoco and Exxon shipments

BOISE — Residents and business owners from the Highway 12 corridor have asked the Idaho Transportation Department to conduct formal hearings before issuing any final permits on megaloads proposed by ConocoPhillips or ExxonMobil.

The Conoco filing, made late Tuesday by Advocates for the West Attorney Natalie Havlina and Executive Director Laird Lucas, followed a Monday, Nov. 1, Idaho Supreme Court ruling that declared administrative remedies had not been exhausted before plaintiffs filed in district court against the ConocoPhillips loads. The Exxon filing was made late Wednesday.

“The high court’s decision was a good ruling for us because it clarified that ITD should allow the public full participation before determining whether to allow these massive shipments up Highway 12,” Lucas said.

Lucas indicated the Supreme Court’s fairly technical analysis hinged on the fact that the three plaintiffs — Highway 12 corridor residents Lin Laughy, Borg Hendrickson and Peter Grubb — did not become formal parties to a “contested case” proceeding in front of ITD. The Tuesday and Wednesday filings, therefore, also seek intervenor status for the three plaintiffs.

“This filing should force ITD to hold a formal contested case hearing, complete with evidence and witnesses,” Lucas said. “This way we can get all the facts out of smoky back rooms and on the table.”

Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, a proponent of legal action that would protect the Wild & Scenic Lochsa and Clearwater rivers, said affected residents and business owners “deserve a chance to have their concerns heard and addressed by ITD,” as do folks with other concerns about the Lochsa-Clearwater Highway 12 corridor.

“We support the plaintiffs’ request and hope that ITD will begin to open this process,” Sedivy said.

On Oct. 27, ITD denied the plaintiffs’ request seeking a contested case hearing for 207 proposed mega-loads by ExxonMobil. As justification for its denial, ITD cited the pending Supreme Court case, as well as ITD’s own discretion to resolve permit applications informally. However, given Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, Advocates for the West re-filed its ExxonMobil request Wednesday afternoon.

Lucas said it is important to remember that the merits of the proposed transport of the mega-loads have not been decided.

“The court didn’t reach the merits at all,” Lucas said. “This is important, as substantive issues remain to be resolved after we go through the administrative process.”