We were already a little hinky over the plan to send big rigs rolling through Montana next summer on their way to the oil sands in Alberta.
It's got a mouthful of a name - the Kearl Module Transportation Project - but basically what is means is that between this fall and next, some 200 monster trucks hauling way-bigger-than-a-house equipment are going to creep over Lolo Pass, through Missoula and Bonner and along Highway 200.
And we do mean creep. It's estimated it will take three days just to get from the Idaho border to Bowman's Corner and onto U.S. Highway 89.
There's been quite the hue and cry about this, with people concerned about everything from the effect on our road surfaces to the environment.
On the other side, there's money. Getting the trucks through Montana is going to mean a lot of road construction as the route requires new pullouts and other modifications so that traffic doesn't back up behind the rolling snails.
Montana stands to realize $68 million from that construction, according to an analysis by Tetra Tech of Missoula for Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil. That's not chump change, and we'll get back to it in a minute.
But first, we want to focus on frequency. The environmental assessment posted on the Montana Department of Transportation website is 185 pages of breathtaking prose. OK, it's pretty dry. But early on it contains this nugget: "The peak transportation volume will be no more than two modules per day through any particular location."
Two per day?
That's a lot of disruption.
But wait, as the commercials say. There's more!
Proceeding approximately as slow as those rigs in getting around to our point, we turn our focus to this week's news that four even bigger rigs, for an entirely different project, are poised at the Montana-Idaho line, just waiting for the say-so from both state transportation departments before bearing down on Missoula.
So it's only four loads, halves of two gargantuan coke drums headed for a ConocoPhillips project in Billings. If they get the go-ahead, they'll lumber through town next weekend.
Which seems to bear out the fear mentioned by a number of folks opposing the Kearl project, an if-you-build-it-they-will-come concern we share:
Namely, that once we modify our roads for the Kearl project, Montana will be come a sort of big rig superhighway, continuously used for these monsters long after that $68 million - which is pretty much a one-shot infusion - has been spent.
Proponents of the project like to remind us that the oil extracted from Alberta is going to help keep our houses warm and our cars filled with cheap gas for a long time to come.
But that's a long way down the road.
The big rigs, however, are poised to roll on Montana's roads now.
Every measure of why people choose to live here puts quality of life high on the list. We're here for the river running through it, not the trucks. When you take that into consideration, the $68 million we're apparently settling for suddenly makes us feel a little cheap.
We've already been told there's not much we can do. The way the regulations are written, if Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil comes up with satisfactory mitigations, MDT has to issue the permits. But that doesn't mean we have to shuck our inhibitions like a teenager on prom night and sashay off with the first guy who offers us $68 million. The public should continue to ask tough questions about this, and demand satisfactory answers.
It's time for Montana to play hard to get.