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Hearing officer: State should OK megaloads

| December 29, 2010 8:00 PM

BOISE (AP) - A hearing officer recommended Tuesday that the Idaho Transportation Department issue four permits to allow ConocoPhillips to ship oversized oil-refinery equipment from Idaho to Montana.

In his 57-page recommendation, Boise attorney Merlyn Clark said evidence shows the four loads can be transported safely and with minimum inconvenience to the general public along northcentral Idaho's U.S. Highway 12, which parallels the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers.

He said foes of the shipments provided no "reliable evidence" that the loads would damage tourism, hurt the highway's scenic values or hamper businesses in the mountainous region, as they had argued at hearings this month.

"The evidence ... clearly establishes that ITD performed its duties and exercised its discretion in processing the application," Clark wrote. "ITD should issue the overlegal permits to allow (ConocoPhillips) to transport four oversize loads of equipment from Lewiston, Idaho to the Montana border over U.S. Highway 12."

Clark's recommendation won't become final until it's acted on by the transportation department.

Transportation Department director Brian Ness said he'll take the recommendation under advisement.

ConocoPhillips said in a statement that it was pleased with Clark's recommendation, saying it shows the oil company and state have a comprehensive plan to ship the big coke drums.

Meanwhile, environmentalists and residents who object to the shipments said they were "disappointed and are evaluating their next steps." They have until mid-January to lodge an appeal.

They've argued the huge loads, which will travel at very slow speeds along a route near where explorers Lewis and Clark traveled in the early 19th century, present a threat to tourism, public safety and convenience and could harm the pristine rivers along the proposed route.

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