Big trouble for a big rig in Idaho: There's snow on Lolo Pass and non-moving violations below.
Inclement midwinter weather stalled ConocoPhillips' first megaload of refinery equipment in Kooskia, Idaho, on Friday for the second night.
Meanwhile, Conoco's moving company, Emmert International, was scrambling to come up with a new plan for a particularly winding stretch of U.S. Highway 12 on which traffic was held up 10 times for more than 15 minutes - the maximum delay allowed - earlier this week.
The weather delay means the 226-foot-long transporter won't reach Lolo Pass and Montana until Monday morning at the earliest, and the weekend weather forecast isn't promising.
The traffic delays may be a bigger problem. Adam Rush of the Idaho Transportation Department said traffic was stopped five times for 29 minutes or more - once for almost an hour - on the Wednesday night-Thursday morning haul from Orofino to Kooskia.
Emmert used all but 10 minutes of its 7 1/2-hour window to travel the 35 miles. It'll have to do better next time, when the second of four shipments comes crawling sometime next week or later.
"We are requiring Emmert to resubmit that portion of the plan and let us know how they're going to go about staying within those traffic delay (limits)," Rush said.
In issuing permits, ITD stipulated that traffic can be held up for no more than 10 minutes in most stretches of the 175-mile haul, and no more than 15 minutes on a dozen targeted stretches.
Rush said priority No. 1 for his agency and the movers is safety.
"They had some corners they wanted to make sure they could safely navigate, and they took some extra time to get around those corners," he said. "But we also care very much about the efficiency for other motorists and being able to use Highway 12 in a timely fashion."
Rush said he had not heard that any emergency vehicles were impeded during blockages, including five that lasted 29, 39, 42, 42 and 59 minutes.
The last and longest delay ended at about 4:30 a.m. It occurred between mile markers 61 and 65 just north of Kamiah, where the highway squirms its way between rock cliffs and the Clearwater River. Marker 65 is the site of Long Camp, or Camp Choppunish, where Lewis and Clark camped for 28 days in May and June 1806 waiting for the snow to melt in the Bitterroots.
Revisions in the travel plan are "absolutely doable," said ConocoPhillips spokesman John Roper, who was working from home in Houston on Friday because an ice storm there shut down Conoco offices.
"We are working with the Idaho Transportation Department and Emmert to adjust our procedures in order to minimize traffic delays while continuing to ensure safe transport of our coke drum shipments to Billings," Roper said in a statement.
The 100 miles of Highway 12 yet to be traveled in Idaho are known for hairpin turns and slow going - from Kooskia up the Middle Fork of the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers to Lolo Pass. Rush said Emmert's transport plan takes those conditions into account.
"They've looked at the future portions of U.S. 12 and don't anticipate any more delays because of sharp corners and curves," he said.
Thursday night's move was called off because of freezing rain in the area. The decision to stay put again Friday was made early in the afternoon, as snow on the road to Lolo Pass began to accumulate.
The National Weather Service in Missoula was calling for 2-4 inches of snow Friday night at Lolo Pass (elevation 5,233 feet) and another 2-4 inches on Saturday.
"Things aren't going to improve after that," said Ray Nickless, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Missoula. "It looks like there'll be snow accumulation Saturday night, down to the lower elevations even. Then it just switches back and forth between rain and snow (on Sunday and Monday)."
Precipitation should start tapering off later Monday as temperatures drop again, Nickless said.
Still, movers remained hopeful that the 300-ton load could move again at 10 p.m. on Saturday. It's the first of four headed for Conoco's refinery in Billings. Once it reaches Montana, it will sit by the roadside a mile or so east of Lolo Hot Springs while the next load moves up from Lewiston.
Together, they'll travel down to Missoula, up the Clark Fork Valley to Garrison, over MacDonald Pass and through Helena, and along a circuitous route through central Montana to Billings.
The other drums will make the trip in late March or April.
A toll-free number, 1-866-535-0138, gives daily updates on the loads.
Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.