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HELENA - The state of Montana's formal environmental review of ExxonMobil's proposal to transport giant oil-field machinery over two-lane highways in western Montana won't be finished until early next month, state transportation director Jim Lynch said Wednesday.

"We're still making sure that we've addressed all the comments that have been made (on the proposal)," he said.

The agency received 200 to 300 independent comments, as well as thousands of mass e-mailed comments, most of which were generated by conservation groups objecting to the proposal.

The environmental assessment will do one of three things: Say the impacts have been addressed, thus allowing the permitting process to go forward; ask for additional information; or decide that a more extensive environmental impact statement is needed.

Imperial Oil, a subsidiary of oil giant ExxonMobil, is proposing to transport large machinery over Montana highways on its route to oil tar-sand development in northern Alberta.

The machinery would be imported from Korea to Portland, Ore., and then driven across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana en route to Canada.

The proposal calls for building some turnouts on the highways, modifying some existing turnouts, modifying and repairing the roadway in some areas, moving existing utility lines and trimming some trees.

In Montana, the equipment's route includes U.S. Highway 12 from Lolo Pass to Missoula, Montana Highway 200 to Four Corners, U.S. highways 287 and 89 north to Dupuyer, and then additional state and local roads through Cut Bank and to the U.S.-Canadian border at Sweet Grass.

The return route of the empty trucks through Montana would be primarily on interstate highways.

Some environmental groups have mobilized against the proposal, saying it will permanently alter highways through some pristine areas of Idaho and Montana and invite other oil companies to transport large equipment along the same corridor.

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On Tuesday, a state judge in Lewiston, Idaho, revoked a permit issued by the Idaho Transportation Department to ConocoPhillips for a similar proposal, to move large equipment over U.S. Highway 12 through Idaho and into Montana, to its refinery in Billings.

District Judge John Bradley ordered the Idaho agency to examine the permit request again to ensure public safety and convenience.

That ruling was appealed late Wednesday.

 

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