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Economic and dam related articles

Money and Clout No Match for an Idaho Winter

by Marty Trillhaase
Lewiston Tribune, November 21, 2011

Now, ExxonMobil will ship 100 of its megaloads to the Port of Pasco,
and from there across the interstate highway system toward Canada.

Talk about a one-sided fight. When ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil announced its plan to roll 207 megaloads along U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana and then on to the Alberta tar sands, it had everything going for it.

ExxonMobil quickly rounded up endorsements from Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter and the state's congressional delegation. The delegation even provided a few earmarks to speed the process along.

Already predisposed toward the trucking industry, Idaho's Transportation Department was so cooperative, at one point it had to be compelled to consult the public.

And yet, as the Tribune's Elaine Williams noted Wednesday, "what could be been a torrent of oversized loads on U.S. 12 may turn out to be a steady dribble." Other companies - ConocoPhillips and Nickel Bros.- have moved a few loads along the corridor.

But only one of the rolling roadblocks Imperial Oil planned to launch in October 2010 and complete a year later - and a "test validation module" at that - actually proceeded along U.S. 12. In fact, the test shipment has been parked at the Montana state line since spring.

Plans have changed.

Now, ExxonMobil will ship 100 of its megaloads to the Port of Pasco, and from there across the interstate highway system toward Canada.

Sixty more will access the interstates from Vancouver, Wash.

And to accommodate the interstate overpass clearance restrictions, ExxonMobil spent $500,000 each to convert 33 loads already barged to the Port of Lewiston into transports short enough to make the trip up U.S. Highway 95 and then across Interstate 90.

At this rate, it's possible the oil giant may never move another shipment along U.S. 12.

So how did the largest, richest and presumably most powerful corporation in the United States fail?

Obviously, it asked the wrong people. Not since the American Smelting and Refining Company announced it would launch an open-pit molybdenum mine in the Boulder-White Clouds in the 1960s has Idaho seen its political establishment so out of touch with the people on the ground.

When then-Gov. Don Samuelson endorsed the ASARCO project, it gave Democrat Cecil Andrus the opening he needed to unseat Samuelson in the 1970 election.

When Otter gave his blessing to the megaloads, ExxonMobil may have thought it meant something. Nobody, it seemed, told ExxonMobil to check in with the locals. Had the company done so earlier, it would have learned how tenacious Kooskia residents Linwood Laughy and Borg Hendrickson would be in picking apart its plan.

Or how a determined Idaho environmental movement would utilize regulatory and judicial appeals. ExxonMobil lost almost a year clearing the Idaho Transportation Department hearing process and Montana's court injunctions. Meanwhile, Idaho Rivers United is in federal court, insisting the U.S. Forest Service has the authority and the obligation to ban all megaload shipments on the Lochsa and Clearwater river corridor under the Wild and Scenic River Act.

Or just how dicey winters are along U.S. 12. Six months of snow on a mountainous highway easily can disrupt any hope of pushing 207 megaloads - with three of them on the highway at one time - with the precision of a railroad schedule. Inclement weather was among the reasons ExxonMobil's test module arrived in Montana May 4 - three weeks late.

All the money, political clout and technology in the world can't stop a snowstorm.

So how did Goliath wind up tumbling at David's feet?

First, he tripped on his own.

Marty Trillhaase
Money and Clout No Match for an Idaho Winter
Lewiston Tribune, November 21, 2011

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