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Idaho megaload opponents: Let big rigs roll to Billings
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Idaho megaload opponents: Let big rigs roll to Billings

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Further evidence that the big rigs cometh:

Opponents in Idaho said late Thursday afternoon they'll file no further legal appeals to stop ConocoPhillips' transport of four huge highway shipments that have been stuck at the Port of Lewiston since last May.

Those so-called megaloads are bound for the company's refinery in Billings.

Instead, said Karen "Borg" Hendrickson of Kooskia, they'll shift their attention to challenging oil companies that want to move hundreds of loads along U.S. Highway 12 on their way to the oil/tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

Imperial/Exxon's proposal to move 207 loads through Idaho and Montana has yet to be approved by transportation departments in either state. It's expected to meet with fervent opposition, legal and otherwise, in central Idaho and western Montana.

But Hendrickson and other interveners in Idaho, who had legal representation from a Boise-based environmental law firm, finally waved the white flag on the ConocoPhillips loads.

"We are proud of the work we have done over the last 10 months helping educate our friends and neighbors about the threats that hundreds of megaloads pose for the communities of the Highway 12 corridor," Hendrickson said in an e-mail statement to media outlets.

"We now want to move past the Conoco shipments and focus attention on the hundreds of megaloads planned by (oil companies) that seek to use Highway 12 as a ‘high and wide' corridor to transport overseas equipment to the Alberta tar sands."

Thursday's announcement paves the way for Conoco's first shipment of Billings-bound refinery replacement parts to leave Lewiston at or after 10 p.m. next Tuesday. A second load will follow when the first reaches Montana at Lolo Pass four nights later, weather permitting.

"We're happy we're going to get the first shipment started on Feb. 1, so we can get the replacement equipment to our refinery in Billings," Conoco spokesman John Roper said Thursday evening in Houston.

The company has set up a toll-free number - 1-866-535-0138 - for a recorded update on the status of the shipments.

Each of the loads consists of one-half of two coke drums manufactured in Japan. They're cornerstones of an upgrade at the ConocoPhillips plant in Billings. The cylindrical drums are 29 feet wide and 26 1/2 feet high.

They'll park one day at the paved truck scales in south Lolo. On the next night, they'll pass through Missoula on Reserve Street and take Interstate 90 to the Bonner interchange, where the overpass is too low to pass under. After traveling through Milltown, Piltzville and Turah on a secondary highway, they'll regain the interstate at Clinton, then leave it for good at Garrison.

Protesters in Idaho will gather for a rally in Lewiston on Saturday and will monitor the loads. But there are no plans to block or disrupt the shipments, said Hendrickson's husband, Linwood Laughy.

"We think it is important for local residents to understand exactly how massive these shipments are and what their impacts may be for traffic and business on Highway 12, but we do not suggest that anyone attempt to interfere with them," Laughy said.

Hendrickson said nearly 4,000 opponents of the megaloads have signed a "Deny Permits" petition in Idaho. They "celebrate the fact that they have forced ITD to pay much keener attention to its legal ad publications," she said. "The opponents trust that ITD staff mean what they have said, that the ConocoPhillips' permits ‘do not set a precedent' for the permitting of future megaloads."

ITD director Brian Ness on Jan. 18 announced his decision to permit the shipments, based on the recommendation of a hearings officer who listened to testimony from both sides.

Montana's Department of Transportation has approved permits for the loads. Director Jim Lynch said Thursday night he expects to learn on Friday what dates Conoco's moving company, Emmert International, expects to be passing along Montana highways.

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