Mega-loads on Highway 12

Mega-loads on Highway 12

Current Status:

Date Filed:
Dec 15, 2010

Case Title:
Linwood Laughy et al. v. Conocophillips, Emmert International, and Idaho Transportation Department

Staff attorney(s):
Laird J. Lucas


Peter Grubb

Fighting Goliath

To Protect:



Date won/settled:
October 1, 2011


Case Information:

As a result of our work, the Conoco transport was delayed for five months and only 1 of the 207 loads envisioned by Exxon traveled on Highway 12. Exxon was forced to cut the remaining loads in half and transport them along other routes.

February 23, 2011 — Advocates for the West has filed a Petition To Reconsider with the Director of the Idaho Transportation Dept., asking him to withdraw the February 14, 2011 decision approving over-legal permits for 207 mega-loads that ExxonMobil and its Canadian affliate, Imperial Oil, seek to haul up Highway 12 along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers. The Petition cites news reports that Exxon/Imperial are already cutting up the loads at Lewiston to send them a different route, and shipping more loads from Vancouver via interstate highways.  “These facts completely undercut Exxon’s assertions over the last year that they have to use Highway 12 for these mega-loads,” said Laird Lucas, Executive Director.

We also filed a Petition to Intervene on behalf of the Friends of the Clearwater to participate in the “contested case hearing” that ITD will be conducting over the Exxon/Imperial mega-loads.

December of 2010 — Hearing Officer Merlyn Clark issued a recommended order, finding that our clients — residents, property owners, and small business people on Highway 12 – have a “direct and substantial interest” in the proposed ConocoPhillips mega-shipments up the scenic Clearwater and Lochsa river corridor, and thus must be allowed to intervene to oppose the Idaho Transportation Dept. permits for these massive shipments.

The hearing officer also ruled that the Conoco mega-loads cannot roll until a formal “contested case” hearing is completed, following the recent Idaho Supreme Court ruling on this matter.  This means that the Conoco shpments will remain in storage at the Port of Lewiston pending further proceedings.

November 1, 2010 — The Idaho Supreme Court released a decision in our case challenging ConocoPhillips’ proposed mega-shipments of oil refining equipment up Highway 12.  Although the court’s 3-2 decision technically reversed our district court victory, the ruling was procedural — and helps us by clarifying that Idaho Transportation Dept. must follow “contested case” procedures before issuing the Conoco permits.  “This decision is important in  directing that ITD should allow the public full participation in determining whether to allow these massive shipments up Highway 12,” said Executive Director Laird Lucas, who argued the case in the Idaho Supreme Court on October 1st.

October 19, 2010 — Advocates for the West filed a Petition for Contested Case Hearing with the Idaho Dept. of Transportation. “This petition seeks a full and public hearing on the proposed Exxon shipments, instead of the secret, behind-closed-doors deals that ITD has evidently been making with Big Oil,” said Executive Director Laird Lucas.

August 24, 2010 — Judge Bradbury this afternoon issued a 16 page decision in our favor, holding that Idaho Transportation Dept violated its own rules in approving four mega-shipments by ConocoPhillips up Highway 12 along the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers.  This is a sweeping ruling for our clients and confirms that ITD failed to consider public convenience and safety in bowing to Big Oil’s desires to turn Highway 12 into a “high and wide” corridor.

August 17, 2010 — District Judge John Bradbury issued a temporary restraining order blocking Idaho Transportation Dept. from allowing ConocoPhillips to ship massive oil refining equipment up the Clearwater-Lochsa corridor.  The court cited the “great damage” the shipments might cause and that ITD “may be violating its own regulations” in approving them.

August 16, 2010 — Advocates for the West filed suit in Idaho County court asking for an injunction to stop the Idaho Transportation Dept. from allowing ConocoPhillips to haul massive oil equipment up Highway 12 along the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers.  A ruling on the injunction is expected before Weds.  READ the petition, injuction motion, and affidavits here.

August 11, 2010 — Advocates for the West is challenging Big Oil’s plans to turn the Lochsa wild and scenic river into a “high and wide” corridor for hauling massive oil field equipment to the tar sands of Alberta.  We have recently submitted comments to both Idaho Transportation Dept. and US Forest Service outlining their legal violations in allowing Big Oil’s plans.

Advocates for the West is working with concerned individuals and conservation groups to oppose plans by Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, and other Big Oil companies to convert the Wild and Scenic Lochsa and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers corridor along U.S. Highway 12 into a high-and-wide industrial corridor devoted to the transport of massive oil extraction equipment manufactured overseas.

With the aid of the Idaho Transportation Department, Exxon spent millions of dollars moving powerlines and altering trees along Highway 12 in 2009 to prepare the way for 207 shipments of equipment bound for Canada’s Alberta Tar Sands. Under Exxon’s original plan, each of these heavy haul loads would have been nearly a football field in length, 3 stories high, and weigh up to 330,000 pounds.

Following Exxon’s lead, ConocoPhillips got permission from ITD to ship 4 massive coke drums to its oil refinery in Billings. Then other companies began to consider Highway 12 as a route for mega-loads.

The Lochsa River and the Middle Fork Clearwater River, were designated as one national Wild and Scenic River in 1968, and Highway 12 is a small winding road that serves local businesses and towns along its route.  Under Big Oil’s plan, however, Highway 12 will become the nation’s first “high and wide” corridor for oversized equipment — threatening businesses, recreation, and tourism, as well as the sanctity of the rivers.

That’s why Advocates for the West stepped in to provide legal support for the group of devoted North Central Idaho citizens fighting to preserve their way of life. In August 2010, we won a temporary restraining order prohibiting ITD from allowing the Conoco shipments. Later that year, we won a ruling from the Idaho Supreme Court that ITD must treat applications for over-legal loads as “contested cases” that affected citizens are entitled to challenge at an evidentiary hearing.  We went on to challenge both the Exxon and Conoco projects at such evidentiary hearings before hearing officers appointed by ITD.

Other companies have asked to use Highway 12 to transport massive industrial shipments.  Advocates for the West remains committed to protecting Highway 12, the Wild and Scenic river corridor, and the many individuals and businesses depending on these public resources.

Reference Idaho Rivers United v. US Forest Service to learn more about our case against the US Forest Service for failing the protect the Wild and Scenic values of the river corridor and adjacent forests.