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Oil-industry mega-shipments bound for scenic highway in Idaho and Montana


Scenic Highway 12 along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers in Idaho and Montana is one of the nation's recreation treasures. It also could become an important thoroughfare for extra-wide-load shipments of industrial equipment bound for the Canadian tar sands.

Residents along the remote highway are fighting the plan, arguing that it could destroy the unspoiled beauty of two of the nation's original waterways in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, threaten tourism, jeopardize salmon recovery and tie up the narrow, two-lane road.

Conservation groups also would like to slow down ExxonMobil's project to extract bitumen from the Kearl Oil Sands project in northern Alberta, where the massive, Korean-manufactured processing modules are bound. They have long argued that dirty, carbon-intensive oil sands development will accelerate the problem of climate change.

Highway 12 "The Northwest, especially Oregon and Washington, has taken hundreds of large and small actions to accelerate the transition to clean energy and reduce carbon footprints," said Pat Ford of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, which is opposing the Idaho and Montana transports."Yet Exxon wants to use Northwest rivers and roads to make billions on a project that will quickly cancel out all that carbon saving and further heat Northwest waters, forests, and towns."

ExxonMobil's venture partner, Imperial Oil Co., says the transports can be handled safely with a minimum of damage to roads and disruption to travelers. The governors of Montana and Idaho, along with some local business leaders, have endorsed the transports. Port of Lewiston managers say the transports could generate jobs and open an important new transport corridor through Idaho.

The Idaho Supreme Court will hear arguments Oct. 1 on a similar, smaller proposal by ConocoPhillips to haul four huge shipments of coke drums along Highway 12 to Billings, Mont.

Briefs in the case filed by the state of Idaho (download state of Idaho brief), ConocoPhillips (download ConocoPhillips brief) and protesting residents (download plaintiffs response brief) argue about whether the state acted legally when it granted permits allowing the shipments to halt traffic for as much as 15 minutes at a time.

-- Kim Murphy

Photos, from top: ConocoPhillips hopes to transport two huge coke drums from the Port of Lewiston, Idaho, to Billings, Mont. Credit: Janice Inghram. Highway 12 through Idaho. Credit: Kim Murphy / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (16)

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Mr. Nielsen I disagree with your assumption that these loads, larger than anything that's ever been on the highway before, can be transported safely. And since they still have not run the test module they said they would in the spring it's all speculation. I guarantee you this shipping venture has not created 1000's of jobs in the U.S.
No one in Idaho is trying to stop Alberta from mining the hell out of the tar sands - we are only asking that they find a different route to ship the equipment on - one that is better suited to such large rigs and one that won't shut down the only east/west highway for 100's of miles nightly -there's a traditional route for such oversized equipment through the Gulf of Mexico and up the central US as well as more options available to use Canadian Highways/waterways) and of course you could make this equipment in Alberta or the U.S. - that would create even more better paying jobs.

To somehow pretend that we must jeopardize one of the most pristine river corridors in the US in order to get Canadian oil is down right false. If you've got so many other countries crying for your oil you'd better start fixing up your roads to transport it through - but my guess is America is your biggest importer and the small cut you take in profits to find a more reasonable route will be well worth it for you in the long run.

I believe that these loads can be transported safely without damaging anything. This project has created thousands of jobs in the US from coast to coast, from D 11 earth mover to 400 ton trucks to instruments and controls but if the people of Idaho want Aberta to stop then they should but at the same time stop the oil flowing to the refineries in the US and sell it to other country that are just crying for that oil. Idaho, be careful what you wish for and look at all the facts.

Unfortunately this equipment destined for the mine site is the result of NAFTA...the US literally forced Canada to sign the agreement and produce natural resources for the American economy. I caution that before we blame the Canadians for all that is wrong in this world...take a good look at your own lifestyles and government policies. Do you think Canadians enjoy destroying their countryside to fuel the American greed and SUVs?

Thanks to the L.A. Times for it's articles about the proposed mega shipments of equipment, bound for Billings, MT and Canada, which could possible pass through the scenic byways of the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers in Idaho and down Lolo Pass through Montana. One would think that Montanans, known for their love of our environment, would be up in arms if the rigs are allowed to travel through their back yard. Yet, our Governor and Congressman are for it and our U.S. Senators are mute about it, saying its a state problem and not a federal problem. Thanks to Oregon Senator Peter DeFazio, like the lad who realized that the "Emperor was wearing no clothes", has has called a spade a spade. He points out the implications of this travel on the environment and potential problems they it poses. Only the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent and a small handful of letters have been written in opposition. Folks in Idaho are up in arms, but There's not outrage in Missoula. It's sad.

Cheers to the L.A. Times for covering what is turning into a national and international concern. The Tar Sands mining project in Alberta, Canada is a global disaster and sets us back in the race to lower our carbon footprint. In the process, the Columbia River Basin and the Wild & Scenic Highway 12 corridor in Idaho and Montana will be ruined instead of preserved. Please continue to cover this story and spread the message!

I live along the proposed route and, regardless of the "legality" of these shipments, if they are allowed to occur they would ruin one of the few remaining wild places set aside by far-sighted people long ago. Short-sighted profit is all the oil companies understand, and what they do to the environment is, at least in this case, not even on their list of priorities. Somehow we must stop the madness.

dear stu
the us vs. them scenarios you brought up where succesfully used by large corporate interests to keep individuals fighting over petty issues ignoring the bigger pictures so the coporations and governments could continue to extract all the money and resources out of a local area.
the spotted owl didn't hurt the logging industry in the northwest in the 90's like NAFTA and the flood of cheaper Canadian lumber that came into the country did. the spotted owl was just used as a poster child for logger anger over lost jobs. The snail darter was used as a way to marginalize the legitimate concerns of the Cherokee people when it came to flooding their ancestral homeland and burial grounds to construct the Tellico Dam.
Trying to connect either of these issues to the Highway 12 make no sense. This is not strictly an evironmentalists against industry issue - it has as much to do with shipping our manufacturing jobs overseas, weakening our national infrastructure (roads and bridges), and federally subsidized the use of our American highways for use by foreign companies(the manufacturer -Korean, the recipient -Canadian and the transporter - Dutch). Not to mention completely inconviencing the travelling public by shutting down both sides of the highway to allow these super large loads to pass. These highway closures cut off the only access many residents have to the emergency room.
if you care about the Humans involved in this issue you would not be siding with the corporations. the local people who are opposed to 200+ massively oversized loads on their roads are hardworking people, some maybe are environmentalists at heart but many would never consider calling themselves such. We are not trying to shut down a road - we are trying to keep Imperial Oil from shutting it down. We've got no problem with commerce or with trucking - it's just that this particular proposal is a bad idea for local residents, the state of idaho and American taxpayers - the negatives outweigh the positives. This equipment can be made in Alberta as well as Montana so there is no NEED to ship it - the only reason they want to is to increase their corporate profits.

First it was the spotted owl, as if that bird couldn't build his nest anywhere. Then the snail Darter, and the mid valley cockroach. Now you're trying to shut down anyone using a damn road. You people just don't like Humans do you? BTW did you know that companies actually profit from building those ugly windmills we see spoiling California countrysides? They kill too, including some spotted Owls. What goes around, comes around.

Exxon is the largest corporation in the world. Their CEO is sure that this multi-trillion dollar corporation can have their way with any group of average Americans (regardless of the size of the group).

Idaho's governor Butch Otter has sanctioned this corporate assault on a scenic highway and Wild and Scenic river in north Idaho.

Please contact governor Otter and suggest that corporations must comply with the wishes of the people.

Idaho Department of Transportation's approval of mega-loads for tranport up Route 12 through the Clearwater Wild & Scenic River Valley is one of the most blantantly stupid acts by any banch of government in recent years. Besides the obvious profit motive for Exxon/Imperial Oil, it is difficult for those of us living in the Wild & Scenic to understand exactly what Idaho and, or for that matter, what the Port of Lewiston is actually getting out of this deal. Perhaps some one and or even the dominant political group in power in Idaho is set to make a lot of money, because at $1,000 a load (ITD permit fee)Idaho is getting nothing but chump change for degrading a growing tourist industry and possibly even destroying one of the last beautiful wild places left in the lower 48 states.

Unfortunately for Idaho, Freedom and Liberty have become synonomous for willful ignorance and a stubborn refusal to enact planning, zoning or other protective ordinances. And the rallying cry of jobs appears to be bogus also, save a few jobs at the Port of Lewiston or the possibility of employment in repairs to Highway 12 roadbed or power lines.
When we talk of America's backroads, though mostly gone now, Highway 12 thru the Lolo Pass from Idaho to Montana is a premier and pristine example, full of magnificent scenery and wildlife and a singular historical heritage. It is the kind of road that makes travelers tip their heads in awe, comparing it to wild passages all over the globe. It is beloved of bicyclists worldwide, and many a fisherman, hunter and whitewater enthusiast.
Why would anyone even consider transporting 210 foot loads 24 feet wide and 30 feet high on such a magnificent stretch of winding road? Just big corporations chasing the almighty dollar folks, that's it and that's all. We don't want big government around here, but we'll lay down on the road for Exxon Mobil or Conoco Phillips so their profits can exceed $60 billion annually while
they buy their equipment from Korea. So much for Freedom and Liberty.
Thank you - Rural People of Highway 12! for fighting the good fight.
Another Idahoan for Justice!

I urge everyone who reads this article to go to the website and learn more about these proposed shipments. A few brave and industrious "little people" discovered this plan when it was almost a done-deal. They have sacrificed their time and money to alert local citizens and to take legal action when the mammoth loads were within weeks of being approved by Idaho Transportation Department. Grass roots help, late in the game, may be no match for the oil company massive dollars and preemptive bargaining behind closed doors. Please read the website and do what you can to help save this beautiful river corridor.

save the deserts; yes, I do vote for environmentally minded representatives of the government, but as we should have all learned in the last decade, sometimes your vote doesn't count.
As far as the topic of this discussion, I find it even more crucial that we learn from our mistakes in other areas of the country rather than just saying "they have it coming." We need to stop destroying our national treasures before they are all gone. I moved to this area because of the pristine wildlife and unspoiled nature that is so hard to find on the east coast due to over development. I have gone to the Port of Lewiston to see for myself how large the shipments really are and to determine, for myself, if they might be a threat to our area. I was amazed at the sheer size of the drums and I still cannot understand why they would even entertain the idea of transporting the equipment down a designated Wild and Scenic river corridor, through the Nez Perce Reservation (home to several religious and historical landmarks) and a crucial part of the Lewis and Clark Trail. The trucks will cover the entire road leaving no room for emergency traffic to pass or for cars to pull to the side if they encounter the trucks in the evenings when they are supposed to be moved. In addition to that, we commonly have trees down on the road, as well as wild game, campers and rock slides (not to mention the occasional avalanches in the wintertime). The possibility of accidents is very high and the repercussions from those accidents could be staggering. Similar to the seven mile bridge into Key West, an accident that closes Hwy 12, will cut residents off from surrounding cities. Environmentally, the river would be irreparably damaged, wildlife would suffer and a way of life for the majority of the residents here would suffer. So, rather than worrying what political party someone may be affiliated with, shouldn't we fight together to save something definitely worth saving? Or should we continue to point fingers at each other and argue amongst ourselves while the beauty of this country is being destroyed. You are right about one thing, save the deserts...the choice is yours

Save the Deserts, I appreciate your comments, but I do have to tell you that those who are most loudly and effectively protesting the giant international corporations' proposal to turn our scenic byway and Wild and Scenic Rivers corridor into an industrial megaload truck route, ARE Idahoans. WE did not sow the seeds of the proposed travesty but are by the thousands fighting it. We are the rural people of Highway 12, who have coalesced around solidly researched information posted at and around our own passionate affection for the pristine, wild place that we live. You sound full of similar passion. We need your help. Please join us and spread the word.

Everyone can quickly understand how insane the industrial truck route proposal is when you realize that the U.S.12 corridor through north central Idaho boasts numerous national designations: Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, 3 of the nation's original 8 Wild and Scenic Rivers, 1 of the nation's 27 All-American Roads, the Nez Perce and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trails, a 174-mile segment of the Nez Perce National Historic Park and of the TransAmerica Bicycle Route, and runs through 70 miles of the Nez Perce Reservation, and has been named the #1 recreational motorcycle route in the nation due to its 174 miles of curvy pavement and scenic beauty. The corridor is further recognized worldwide for its world-class whitewater rivers, its access to millions of acres of Idaho's "Big Wild" country, its pristine habitat for native fish, including imperiled salmon, and the fact that it is a remarkable outdoor paradise for people.

They say stopping these horribly inappropriate loads will "hinder job creation" in the oil fields & refineries. Let's PLEASE look at the jobs that will be lost in the tourist trade and outdoor recreation. This is the one of the most beautiful and well used and respected corridors for visitors to our states. It will COST JOBS for those of us working to serve the travelers, and recreationalists who come spend their dollars in our states.

welcome to what the rest of us have been facing for the past century - total destruction of our beloved places for faraway Big Corporate profits.

and i wonder if these people vote for pro-environment liberal legislators or for mercenary "kill the wilderness for profit" 'wingers? basic regulations would have prevented this but you think you are living so free? then free yourselves from this.

sorry, idaho, but you reap what you sow. maybe now you will understand what the smart, well-intentioned folks you call "eco-fascists" have been trying to accomplish. we prefer not to let some big corporation destroy everything we love and take all our money. and THAT is freedom.

november's right around the corner. the choice is yours.


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