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

September 16, 2010 |  6:51 am


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