Local officials hear about plan to move 1.6 million pound loads through Moscow
The Moscow City Council chambers on Wednesday afternoon were nearly filled with people interested in a plan to route three “megaloads” of oil field equipment through the community.
Local government officials learned how the transportation company, Mammoet USA South Inc., intends to move the loads that are 441 feet long, 27 feet wide, 16 feet tall, and weigh about 1.6 million pounds each through Moscow, en route to a refinery in Great Falls, Montana.
Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert opened the workshop by thanking the government and transportation company participants. He said the purpose of the meeting was for local officials to address any concerns they might have about the potential impacts accompanying movement of such large cargoes.
Residents providing public testimony is “not why we’re here today,” but they can make their opinions known through the city, Lambert stressed after he thanked them for coming as well.
The over-legal-limit permits haven’t been issued yet by the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) for these megaloads. An ITD representative based in Lewiston explained this is most likely going to occur, because the loads are within allowable weight guidelines for such exceptional hauls.
ITD looks at how much weight is being supported on each inch of tire width to determine whether loads can be moved on specific routes.
The maximum weight allowed atop virtually this entire route is 800 pounds per tire inch-width (ppw). This includes the stretch of U.S. Highway 95 that runs through Moscow.
These megaloads are closer to 640 ppw, said Doral Hoff, operations manager and engineer for ITD in Lewiston.
Many oversize logging and grain vehicles run along portions of this route and usually weigh 300 to 400 ppw. Graders and excavators that are run routinely through the area by seasonal permits can weigh up 600 to 700 ppw as well, Hoff said.
Councilor John Weber asked if the transportation company was “insured and bonded.”
A company representative, Chip Kachel, said this is the case.
Les McDonald, the city’s public works director, explained the utility lines are deep enough underground to take the weight of these megaloads.
One pass over the street of a cargo this size versus 16 pass-overs of vehicles weighing 16 times less would have a similar effect.
Councilor Tom Lamar said he was concerned that such a large load would reach curbing as it rolls through.
Kachel said the steering system on the transport is high-tech enough to allow the haul to make many tight maneuvers.
Hoff said the state requires every hauler “to provide and implement” ITD with a travel plan.
Idaho State Police receive special funding for watching such transports make their way across the state, and officers will be accompanying these hauls, he said.
ITD also starts looking at weather forecasts to help decide whether “it’s a go or not a go,” and tries to inform the public the haul is coming through a specific location at least 24 hours ahead, Hoff said.
ISP keeps in frequent contact with dispatchers on location and conditions along the route, and exerts control of the trip.
We want to be sure to protect citizens,” said ISP Lieutenant Allen Oswald.
That would include ensuring protesters are safe “but still able to protest,” he said.
The megaloads would be transported along Washington Street, as part of the U.S. Highway 95 leg of these trips. Specifically, the route would move north on U.S. 95 from Lewiston, during which time it would come through Moscow, then move onto Interstate 90 at Coeur d’Alene.
Washington Street in Moscow is state-controlled, but some of the infrastructure that lies underneath – specifically water, wastewater, and stormwater pipes and related hardware – is owned by the city.
Moscow Police Chief David Duke is concerned about the megaloads coming through downtown during the wee hours of the morning, when large numbers of local college students often are exiting bars and other businesses that serve alcohol.
This is why the city would like to see the vehicles move through long before these businesses close.
Movement of the haul would be restricted to low-traffic hours, usually 10 pm to 5 am, anyway.
Duke said there have been 31 other nights of oversize or overweight transports through the city.
He also asked whether there was a contingency plan, so emergency vehicles could enter the area should the need arise for medical care along the route.
Duke was assured by officials that there are plans that would address a variety of possible emergencies.
He wants the sidewalks blocked off because of the potential for the haul to hang over into portions of the route, such as at First Street.
Duke also doesn’t want to see the haul come through on a Friday or Saturday night or Sunday morning either.
Although people weren’t allowed to comment during the meeting, a small number brought protest signs expressing opposition to the routing – mostly because of its final use to extract fossil fuel.
When there were no more questions and Lambert asked whether the company wanted to give its PowerPoint presentation, one person in the audience shouted that it would be better to let people speak.
She received a round of applause.
A couple of opponents opted to visually express their displeasure about not being allowed to speak. Two women placed duct tape over their mouths.
The women removed the duct tape after the workshop and explained that their organization is against climate change and its root causes, which includes oil production, particularly that occurring in tar sands areas.
That production is “prefaced on these pieces of equipment getting there,” said Helen Yost, an organizer with Wild Idaho Rising Tide.
Another resident brought a small sign that stated “Apply the brakes on the megaloads.”
Councilor Wayne Krauss said the hauls don’t seem to have garnered a lot of local favor but that “we also understand that we have no way to keep (them) from happening.”
(By Terri Harber, staff writer, Moscow-Pullman Daily News)