As the first of potentially hundreds of mega-loads rolls from Lewiston to Lolo Pass, a Republican lawmaker is preparing to introduce legislation to make it harder for companies to get mega-load permits.
Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, said he will introduce legislation next week calling for the permit process to include public hearings. Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) Director Brian Ness allowed a contested hearing (with lawyers on both sides arguing and questioning witnesses like in a trial), but ITD can approve the permits in-house.
Trail’s legislation also calls for an interim committee to work with ITD and the Legislature to develop guidelines for the approval process, and raise permit fees so they cover the cost of what ITD invests. The two permits so far issued to ConocoPhillips cost $2,143 and $2,094. ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten said the fees are based on a formula that includes the number of axles and gross weight. Trail said he asked ITD Director Brian Ness for a figure on what it cost the agency to deal with the mega-loads – administrative, legal, and technical costs – but Ness could not provide a figure, Trail said.
“The Idaho taxpayer is paying for every one of those,” he said.
Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, a member of the House Transportation and Defense Committee, said she thinks the legislation won’t find traction.
“I don’t think people here are going to go for that,” she said. She said the public elect representatives in order to make some calls. Wood said the oil companies are putting up a lot of money, including building big turnouts along Highway 12. Sightseers forever more will be able to pull off and take in the wild scenery, or have a snooze, she said.
Senate Transportation Committee member Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, won’t be backing any effort to make getting mega-load permits any more rigorous. But his argument is on a different plane.
“This is an absolute no-brainer (approval of mega-load permits) for the security of the nation,” he said at a recent joint meeting of the Senate and House transportation committees. “If this nation wants more Middle East wars … we can’t continue to rely on foreign oil.”
In an interview, he added: “We need to do everything in our power to ween ourselves of Middle Eastern oil, and working on a more stable source such as the oil sands is exactly what this country should be doing.”
State Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, supports legislation addressing mega-load permits.
“The process really needs to be more extensive than it is,” she said.
At a protest in Lewiston, Ringo hoisted a sign that read, “You take the profits, we take the risk.”
an interview, she said, “I don’t want to be in the position of aiding and abetting the tar sands in Alberta.” The haul is “putting out a lot of Idahoans,” she said, saying that “it almost felt like they (ITD) were feeling their way as they went.”
“Even now from the state point of view it’s being looked at purely as an engineering problem,” she said.
ITD had no comment on Trail’s legislation, other than to say that their decision to issue permits to Conoco complies with state and federal regulations, and agency policy.