LEWISTON, Idaho - Supervisors of the Lolo and Clearwater national forests say they're concerned that allowing oversized loads of oil processing equipment to travel from Lewiston into western Montana could set a precedent that transforms scenic U.S. Highway 12 into an industrial byway.
But the Port of Lewistown is already reliant on cashing in on the big rigs, and has budgeted $100,000 in revenue from Imperial Oil for the coming fiscal year.
That's despite the fact that there is still no signed agreement that will allow the ExxonMobil subsidiary to actually haul more than 200 oversized loads from the port to a mine site in Canada.
Port manager David Doeringsfeld says that if the agreement is signed, the port's revenue could come in at significantly more than $100,000, depending on the actual tonnage moved through the port.
The oil company wants to haul the shipments along Highway 12 over Lolo Pass and through western Montana to the Kearl Oil Sands project in Alberta, later this year.
But Montana and Idaho residents, environmentalists, businesses and others have heavily opposed the plan, saying the loads could damage the road, block both lanes of the highway and cause problems if one of the trucks crashes.
Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell and Lolo Forest Supervisor Deborah Austin each wrote letters about the plan to their states' departments of transportation, expressing their concerns and opposition.
Both are concerned that the slow-moving loads and their associated road closures could hamper public access to the national forests, pose safety hazards, alter natural views and disturb campers.
Both Brazell and Austin acknowledge that they have little authority to prevent the shipments, but asked the state agencies to consider the long-term effects of permitting the loads.