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Judge Asked to Lift Block On Megaloads

Wed October 05, 2011 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) A Montana judge said he will rule in October whether to repeal or change his order to keep an Exxon Mobil subsidiary’s oversized oil refinery rigs bound for Canada off Montana highways.

Judge Ray Dayton, of Anaconda, issued a preliminary injunction on July 19 that blocked the transporting of more than 200 so-called megaloads through Montana en route from Idaho to the oil sands of Alberta.

The Missoulian reported that Dayton heard two hours of arguments Sept. 22 as to why he should or shouldn’t rescind or modify his order. After the arguments, Dayton said he recognizes the Imperial Oil’s desire for a speedy decision, but will have to sift through a lot of testimony.

Ken Johnson, the project manager of the Kearl Module Transport Project, told the judge that all of the modules that the Exxon subsidiary wants to transport from South Korea to Alberta are now in the United States.

Some have been hauled to the work site in Canada, but most are waiting at ports in Washington and Idaho, he said. With winter coming and deadlines looming at the Kearl Oil Sands construction site, Johnson said his company needs U.S. Highway 12 in Montana to get its processing equipment there.

“We need all the routes we can to move all the modules that we have in Idaho and Washington to the site,” Johnson said. “We’re behind in schedule and we have to accelerate the movements, and so we’re looking at all available routes.”

Missoula County and three environmental groups contend that Montana transportation officials approved an insufficient environmental assessment and urged Dayton to keep the block on the shipments.

“We think your ruling was well-rounded and well-insulated, if you will, because of the breadth of your findings,” attorney Kim Wilson, of Helena, representing the three environmental groups that joined in the suit, told Dayton.

Imperial Oil attorney Steve Brown said the order did not take into account evidence that state officials did everything they could to adhere to the Montana Environmental Protection Act.

“The only evidence that can be shown as far as a MEPA violation is evidence of the record, and the court can’t go outside the record to find a MEPA violation,” Brown said.

The company said a test haul to Lolo Hot Springs showed it overestimated the number of turnouts needed to comply with Montana’s rule that traffic should not be delayed more than 10 minutes by the slow-moving rigs.

Plus, the first 33 modules to arrive in Lewiston, Idaho, have been split into 65 loads so they can move on the interstates from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, through Montana to the Port of Sweetgrass. Thirteen have moved so far and two were scheduled to move on an alternate route that involves all-interstate travel through Montana, Johnson said.

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