The big blue megaload that a Canadian oil company says will validate its plan to send many more up U.S. Highway 12 in Idaho and Montana got off to a rough start.
The wide load hit a guy wire alongside the highway near Orofino, Idaho, early Tuesday, setting off a sequence of events that led to an hours-long power outage in some 1,300 area homes and businesses, and forcing a highway closure of some 60 minutes.
The mishap happened shortly after 1:30 a.m. PDT, a few hours after the big rig struck and broke off a giant tree branch near the Lewiston Rose Garden as it left town. The branch was 10 inches in diameter and 20 feet long. No traffic delays resulted.
Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil's test module, bound eventually for the Kearl Oil Sands of Alberta, Canada, finished the night parked 13 miles short of its designated stopover near Kooskia.
"In the interest of safety we halted the move at that point so we could completely assess the situation," said Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser. "We're working with the Idaho Transportation Department to understand what happened and to learn from it, and to make adjustments to our transportation plan."
It appeared the plan to make the 182-mile trip to Lolo Hot Springs in Montana by Thursday morning was off. Rolheiser called it "highly unlikely" the trip would continue Tuesday night as proposed.
The Idaho Transportation Department issued a statement saying it had requested Mammoet, the international company transporting the load, to investigate and report on both incidents. ITD spokesman Adam Rush said Mammoet would not be allowed to proceed until the report had been received and approved.
"When we're working with haulers and shippers, our approach is to have an exchange of information with them and to improve transportation plans moving forward," Rush said. "We don't like to levy fines right from the get-go or flat out deny people permits, but we do ask them to make changes."
Neither Rush or Rolheiser claimed to know how the accident near Orofino occurred. The load is 24 feet wide, 30 feet high and some 250 feet long counting pull and push trucks. It's reportedly the biggest load to ever travel on the winding highway up the narrow Clearwater and Lochsa river valleys in Idaho.
According to an ITD news release, the guy wire was attached to a power pole near milepost 47, a couple of miles southeast of town. The transport struck the wire, breaking a pole it was attached to. The broken line flew over a heavy high-voltage power line, shorting it out. The highway was closed until Avista Power could assess the situation.
The Lewiston Tribune reported that power was lost in the areas of Weippe and Pierce, small towns west of Highway 12, for almost five hours. According to Rolheiser, it wasn't that long.
"It's our understanding from the local utility company that a number of customers were temporarily affected. The incident took place at 1:30 last night and it's our understanding that power was restored to all customers before 5 a.m.," he said. "Obviously we apologize for any inconvenience that that might have caused."